Baby Come Back*

Returning SleithsAuthors have many reasons for ending a series that features a particular sleuth. Sometimes they find themselves losing interest in the sleuth. And talented authors don’t want to bore readers. So they end a series before that happens. Other times the series was intended from the beginning as a limited series. There are other reasons too that authors decide to bid adieu to their sleuths. But it doesn’t always stay that way. Authors take a big risk when they bring back a protagonist they’d thought was finished, but it can end up being the right decision.

One of the most famous examples of this of course is Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. The star of 56 short stories and 4 novels, Holmes was supposed to take his last bow in The Adventure of the Final Problem. In that story he has a face-to-face conflict with his nemesis Professor Moriarty at Switzerland’s Reichenbach Falls. The fight ends with both men hurtling over the falls. But as Conan Doyle fans will know, the public outcry against the death of Holmes was so great that Conan Doyle was persuaded to resurrect him. This he did in The Adventure of the Empty House. In this case it was as much public opinion as anything else that led Conan Doyle to bring his protagonist back. It was risky in the sense that he had to come up with a credible way for Holmes to return. But it turned out to be most successful.

Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh Inspector John Rebus retires at the end of Exit Music. His last major case, the main focus of that novel, is the murder of Russian dissident poet Alexander Todorov. Todorov’s murder is set up to look like a mugging gone wrong, but Rebus soon suspects otherwise. There are several possible suspects too, including Rebus’ old nemesis Morris Gerald ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty. In the end Rebus and his team find out the truth about that murder and another death that occurs in the story. The novel also features the ‘goodbye’ celebration for Rebus, and thus the series ended. But Rankin has brought Rebus back in Standing in Another Man’s Grave. In that novel, Rebus has returned to work as a civilian for the Lothian and Borders Police’s Cold Case unit. That’s how he gets involved in the search for the truth about Sally Hazlitt’s disappearance. Sally disappeared in 1999 during a holiday trip to a chalet. Her body hasn’t been found, so her mother Nina hasn’t given up hope. Nina Hazlitt asks the Cold Case unit to look into the matter and Rebus gets interested and begins to investigate. He finds that there are two deaths that might be connected to Sally Hazlitt’s disappearance; if so, this could be much bigger than just one disappearance. Rebus’ return makes a lot of sense and is quite believable. First, he’s never been able to stay away from work. Second, he hasn’t died and miraculously returned. He retired, and not long ago. So it makes sense that he might be back. In this case the choice to bring Rebus back has worked out well.

Philip Kerr wrote the first novels featuring his PI Bernhard ‘Bernie’ Gunther beginning with 1989’s March Violets. In that novel, which takes place in Berlin just a few years before World War II, Gunher is hired to find a stolen diamond necklace. The case turns out to be much more complex than that though. Gunther starts getting notice from some very important people and is chosen to solve some difficult and dangerous cases in The Pale Criminal and A German Requiem. There the series ended in 1991. Or so it seemed. Fifteen years later Kerr brought Gunther back in 2006’s The One From the Other. Since that time there’ve been four other Bernie Gunther novels and a fifth is due in April of 2013. The recent novels have been extremely well-received and (in my opinion, so feel free to disagree if you do) justly so. In this case, the decision to bring a sleuth back was a wise one. It’s logical too considering the kind of character Gunther is and the fact that Kerr didn’t end the first trilogy of novels with Gunther’s death.

There’s also Ann Cleeves’ Jimmy Perez. He is the Shetland Islands police detective who features in Cleeves’ Shetland Quartet. In the final novel of the quartet Blue Lightning, Perez suffers a devastating tragedy when he investigates the murder of Angela Moore, whose body is found at the Fair Isle Bird Sanctuary. Given what happens in the novel it makes a lot of sense that he would question what he’s even doing on the police force. It’s entirely believable that the series would end based on what happens in it. And in fact, Cleeves has gone on to create the very well-regarded Vera Stanhope series. But (and I’m very glad of this personally) she’s decided to bring Jimmy Perez back. We’ll see him again in Dead Water, scheduled for release in January 2013.

Bringing back a sleuth is a big risk, especially if it’s been a while since that sleuth made an appearance. Besides the work that author has to do in terms of plot and so on, the author also has to decide what’s happened in the intervening time. Is the sleuth older? What has the sleuth been doing? If it’s not credible, readers won’t ‘buy it.’ But when it does work it can be a very wise decision.

All this is making me wonder about other sleuths we haven’t heard from that could conceivably come back. For instance there’s Michael Connelly’s Jack McEvoy. McEvoy is a successful journalist who has made his name researching and reporting on important crime cases. We last saw McEvoy in 2009’s The Scarecrow, in which he investigates the rape and murder of twenty-three-year-old Denise Babbit. Sixteen-year-old drug dealer Alonzo Winslow has allegedly confessed to the crime but McEvoy finds that his confession is not genuine and that he’s probably innocent. So McEvoy throws himself into this story to find out the truth. In the end he does, and it makes logical sense that he would end his career there. And so far, he has. Connelly himself has said that McEvoy is on the proverbial back burner. But I wonder whether we might see McEvoy feature in another novel. I hope so.

What do you think? Do you think it’s stretching credibility too far when a character whose series has ended is brought back? If you’re a writer, what are your thoughts about bringing back a protagonist?



*NOTE: :The title of this post is the title of a song by Player.


Filed under Ann Cleeves, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, Philip Kerr

12 responses to “Baby Come Back*

  1. I can’t think of that many “classic” detectives who have been brought back, Margot. I do know a fair number of today’s authors who have several series going and eventually drop one of them for a variety of reasons. Rhys Bowen, for example, whose work I admire, began writing stories about Welsh constable Evan Evans. She stopped writing those several years ago to focus on two other series and other detectives. I know her website has a fair number of readers asking for Evans to be brought back, and Rhys has said she will at least write an additional Evans novella or story in ebook format to bring readers up to date on this popular character.

    I’m less sanguine about characters brought back after their original author has died, but I suspect that’s a topic for a different posting!

    • Les – It is indeed! Picking up the mantle so to speak when the author has died is really a challenge. I know it’s been done but, well, I’m not usually thrilled about it either.
      It’s very good to hear that Evan Evans may be back. I like that series myself. Bowen has a lot of talent and really evokes the Welsh town where her protagonist lives. I like his character too.

  2. Up I pop again and starting to feel like one doing a masters on the work of Ann Cleeves. 😉 Vera’s creation actually predated Jimmy’s. She first appeared in 1999. In fact, Ann had not intended a series there but discovered she liked her so much she wrote more. Jimmy’s first appearance in Raven Black is key here as the novel won the CWA Gold Dagger, then sponsored by private bank Duncan Lawrie and with the greatest amount of prize money in the history of the award. That helped put attention on the winning book and to use a cliche, the rest is history.

    With the success of the Shetland Quartet, Ann’s backlist came to the fore and Vera then went successfully to screen. Due to the success of Vera on screen Ann has written more Vera and this has also led to the deal to film Jimmy for TV. Which in turn has led to Ann writing more, following the Shetland ‘quartet’.

    It is just fab how when a breakthrough is achieved, success breeds more success. So happy for Ann.

    • Rhian – Thank you so much for this background. It really is interesting (and wonderful in this case) how one novel’s success can lead to so much. I’m delighted that there will be another Jimmy Perez novel, and I’m very happy the Vera Stanhope series has had so much success. Both are excellent. And if that well-deserved recognition is what lead to the new Shetland novel, so much the better.

  3. I’m a big fan of both those Ann Cleeves series, and so I learnt something from your post, Margot, (look forward to that new Perez book) and from the very interesting comment above.

    • Moira – Oh, I like both series very much. And it is great news about Dead Water isn’t it? And I found what Rhian said very interesting and helpful too. I always like learning that kind of background.

  4. I remember when Nicholas Freeling knocked off Inspector Van Der Valk he later has a case investigated by his wife. In BROTHERS, William Goldman’s sequel to MARATHON MAN, he had a character previously thought dead return after years of physical rehabilitation though Goldman was being a bit tongue-in-cheek (there are jokes about how he hates sequels int he book after all). Personally I think anything is permissable if you do it well enough, though usually, I prefer prequels as a way round the problem.

    • Sergio – Thanks very much for the reminder of Freeling’s strategy. Of course, I like Arlette’s character so I didn’t mind her ‘taking the lead,’ but still… And I will confess to not having read Brothers. Now you’ve piqued my interest since I’d very much like to see how Goldman manages it.
      The whole prequel thing is an interesting topic in itself isn’t it? In fact, I think I’m going to think about that for a bit and perhaps do a post. Prequels are creative ways to deal with the issue and when they’re done well, they give good backstory too. Thanks for the ‘food for thought.’

  5. kathy d.

    If Sherlock Holmes could come back, then I guess any character can do it. He was the original detective, after all.
    What I can’t deal with are dream sequences at the end of a book, which show that the prior story was all in the dreamer’s imagination, and whatever happened or whoever was killed are wiped off the pages in an instant. Not a good plot device.
    Something much more plausible must happen to reawaken the dead.

    • Kathy – I know exactly what you mean. I don’t like those improbable kinds of events either. Dream sequences and so on stretch credibility too far for my taste. I agree that it’s really not a good plot device at all.

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