They’ve left this mortal coil but their bylines live on.
What do Vince Flynn, Robert Ludlum and Agatha Christie have in common, other than new books? All would have a difficult time picking up a pen, because they’re dead.
I’m thinking about this because there’s a “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” sequel out. “The Girl in the Eagle’s Talons” continues the mystery series created by Stieg Larsson, who has been dead for 19 years. “Eagle’s Talons” at least feels like a semi-respectful way to make money off Larsson — the cover concedes that Lisbeth Salander’s new case was created by Karin Smirnoff.
Although Larsson’s integral contribution is acknowledged elsewhere in “Eagle’s Talons,” he’s not mentioned on the cover. That feels more honest than “Code Red,” a Sept. 12 title in which the most prominent cover element is the name of Minnesota writer Vince Flynn, who died in 2013. If you look closely, you’ll see the actual author’s name, Kyle Mills, in small type.
Flynn’s series about Mitch Rapp will keep going, although Mills announced “Code Red” is his last Rapp; Don Bentley takes over next year. Bentley is a veteran of this sort of work, having also produced new books by another author who put away his laptop for the last time in 2013, Tom Clancy. Neither Flynn nor Clancy can match the posthumous record of Robert Ludlum, though. He died in 2001 but there have been 33 Ludlum books since then, with his name plastered on each cover.
If we’re not going to let sleeping authors lie — and, apparently, there’s too much money in their beloved characters to do that — I prefer the approach of the “Dragon Tattoo” books.
It reminds me of the first continuation-of-a-dead-writer book I read, Nicholas Meyer’s “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution,” which traded on the fact that it was a new Sherlock Holmes adventure, but didn’t pretend that original writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had anything to do with it.
Meyer’s conceit — that “Seven-Per-Cent” was a recently discovered manuscript written by Doyle’s Dr. Watson — even had a little fun with the cheek of Meyer thinking he could step into the shoes of an all-time great. (It’s also fun to speculate how Doyle, who famously believed in a spiritual afterlife, would have reviewed “Seven-Per-Cent.”)
Another upcoming mystery, “Hercule Poirot’s Silent Night” (due Oct. 24), strikes a similar balance. It’s the fifth Poirot mystery by prominent writer Sophie Hannah, extending the life of Agatha Christie’s sleuth. I don’t love that the new books feature Christie’s name three or four sizes larger than Hannah’s — and in the same font currently used for actual Christie books. On the other hand, it could be argued that, although she’s been dead nearly 50 years (and her estate authorized the Hannah books), Christie invented Poirot and other popular mystery tropes, so her name can’t be too big.
Although I think it’s weird to continue to emblazon Ludlum’s name all over Jason Bourne books, I admit I’m inconsistent. A huge Christie fan — which I may have mentioned one or 90 times — I initially resisted Hannah’s books, which seemed blasphemous. But when I tackled them, I was surprised by how well she understood the detective and how capably she captured Christie’s cozy vibe.
These books aren’t going away. Isaac Asimov series also have been extended, and lives there a professional novelist who hasn’t written a take on Jane Austen? If publishers are going to keep leaning on gone-but-not-forgotten novelists, I suppose it’s up to readers to decide how appropriate it is for dead people to continue writing books.