book reviews

Dead Authors Writing

hercule poirot livesIt’s become popular to continue a beloved series after the death of the author. Some work like Anne Hillerman who continues the Navajo Mystery series started by her father, Tony Hillerman. He was iconic for his descriptions of life and culture through the adventures of a detective on an Indian reservation. She continues that nicely albeit not quite as credibly. Others don’t go so well (I’ll keep those to myself but feel free to add your thoughts in the comments).

One famous continuation I decided to try–with trepidation–was Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot series. Who could write this masterful quirky Belgian detective in the style of Agatha Christie, with his ‘little gray cells’, patent leather shoes, stylish mustache, shining green eyes, and awkward phrasings? I didn’t believe it possible so ignored Sophie Hannah’s effort until I read a fairly lackluster review from the Wall Street Journal that, while not effusive in its praise, didn’t pan her, so inspired me to give Hannah’s new series a try. After all, Hannah has won lots of awards and is well-established in her own right:

Sophie Hannah is an award-winning author of both fiction and poetry and international bestselling writer of psychological crime fiction, published in 27 countries.

Let me stipulate that the enormity of trying to ‘be’ Agatha Christie, no matter how many times an author has been an NYT best-seller, is doubtless too much to expect of anyone. Christie is one of the best-selling authors of all time with over 2 billion books sold. Her famous Hercule Poirot is the only fictional character to receive an obituary on the front page of the New York Times. Dead or not, few can match this.

As a result, I wasn’t willing to invest the $12 each for the Kindle version so I checked it out of my local library. It arrived fairly quickly, which should have been the first clue. The second was that on both Amazon and Goodreads, the books garnered only about 3.5 stars.

Good not great I’ll call these.

I did finish two of them. They’re in the flowery, detail-heavy style of Christie with lots of intriguing characters sprinkled throughout. Hannah includes plenty of diversion in the plot making it difficult for readers to draw conclusions on who might be the guilty party. As with Christie’s Poirot, Hannah’s has a similarly-bumbling Scotland Yard detective (Inspector Edward Catchpool) who seems unable to find a clue even if he’s holding it by the tail. Poirot professes to be undisturbed by this, eager to teach this young sleuth how to detect correctly and efficiently.

There are a few differences of note in Hannah’s books:

  • They are longer.
  • Poirot overall is less impressive.
  • The bumbling sidekick plays a greater part.
  • There is more retelling of events, as though to be sure the audience got it. I don’t recall that from the original and by halfway through, found myself annoyed by it (and skipping pages!)

I read Monogram Mysteries and Closed Casket, but I’m not sure I’ll read the last one, Mystery of Three Quarters.

Overall, for Poirot fans, this is a must. At least then, you can draw your own well-researched conclusions.

More detective mysteries

My Month With Alex McNight

My Winter with Berger and Mitrie

Book Review: Crazy Mountain Kiss

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and Born in a Treacherous Timefirst in the Man vs. Nature collection. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today and TeachHUBmonthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. Look for her upcoming trilogy, Crossroads, eta Spring 2019.


80 thoughts on “Dead Authors Writing

  1. Hi
    I enjoyed this post and the retelling of events to make sure the reader gets it would annoy me too! Although there are times some audiences do need to have this CLEARLY presented – (and maybe twice) it sure can be annoying for those that don’t need it and for those that feel the sophomoric tone with such overt depiction —
    I do like murder mysteries wonder if Sophie Hannah would have done better if she didn’t try to connect so much with AC – maybe this will lead to growth in this genre for her And it could lead to some better (great rather than meh or good) stories later.

    Liked by 1 person

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  5. This happened with the books written by Dick Francis. Not quite the same because they aren’t a series, but there are a few continuations with the same characters. His son continued to write them (although they did have a transition phase where the books were co-authored). I still love the new books, although I find them a little more gory than the originals.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You spoke of Anne Hillerman’s trying to “walk” in her father, Tony’s footsteps. She is sincerely trying to do so, but they are such large footsteps, that it may take her a while to do so. I love rereading Tony’s books, as they so remind me of my mission experiences with the Dine..

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve seen some spin-offs and continued series after the author’s death and have steered clear for some reason. I guess I don’t want the memory of the original author’s vision tainted. The exception is when a series isn’t finished. The fantasy series Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan was finished by Brandon Sanderson and he did a great job. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s good to hear. I’ve struggled to come up with a series that is done as well as the first author. Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series is as close as I can come but I’m tainted on that because I have always like Mark Greaney (the new author)’s voice.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I actually looked through the comments to see if someone had brought up Sanderson finishing Jordan’s series. Honestly, I loved the first few books of Wheel of Time but hated the meandering of later books, so I gave up. It was Sanderson’s account of his approach and his feelings about being given the burden of completing such a fan favorite that sold me on giving his take a chance. I loved his contribution, and his humble comments made me look into other books he’s written. He’s now my favorite author.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I think it’s incredibly hard to reproduce another author’s voice. That’s why I take nothing away from folks like Hannah who don’t quite hit it right–for me. This hasn’t dissuaded me from reading her other books.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Absolutely. What Sanderson did that sold me was admit right from the start, “Guys, I’m not Robert Jordan, so I’m not going to try to be, because that would do him and his work a great disservice. I am, however, a fan, and I am going to pour all my love into this to give us the finished product of the ending he’s already written in his notes, to the best of my limited ability.”

          I’m paraphrasing, but it struck me as classy humble, and made me root for him to do well. I believe he did.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. Funnily enough, I came across one of these books in a local charity shop, and noted the new author. I didn’t end up buying because I’m generally skepticial about attempts to carry on series beyond their author’s life. From the point of view of a writer it must be both exhilarating and daunting to be tasked with continuing the work of an icon, but I think from the point of view of the product and the audience it’s never really going to work beyond ‘okay’ and ‘not terrible.’ There is a certain stigma, whether warranted or not. Though all of this is just my humble (possibly wrong) opinion. After reading your well-balanced review, however, if I see another New Poirot around I might lay out the 50p just to satisfy my curiosity. Good luck to Sophie Hannah anyway, not even the great Christie herself pulled out perfection all of the time, and I kind of love her all the more for that human fallibility.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks for the reviews, Jacqui. I don’t think I’ll bother reading them. Mind you, I didn’t read many of Agatha Christie’s stories either (I’m not sure that I should admit that). I haven’t read any follow up stories to those of my favourite (dead) authors. I don’t think anyone could match them so wouldn’t try.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Interesting spin on older books. I imagine it’s interesting to see what another author could come up with similar to a dead author but for me I’d rather hold the original versions of a book I enjoyed in mind the way I remembered it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Now I need to re-read Agatha Christie. I devoured those books as a teen, but I haven’t read them since. I’m a little protective of my favorite authors. I have never tried to read any fan-fiction or anything like that because I don’t want to ruin my original experiences. So even though I’m a Christie fan, I doubt I’ll read these versions. I wonder what she thinks about it all! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Christie’s estate took a lot of time before selecting someone to continue Poirot (who died in the TV show!). I have no doubt she did well but she just isn’t Poirot. I doubt I’ll read any more of hers.


  12. That is interesting. I imagine writing is a personalised craft and perhaps difficult to replicate. I do know one example. As a teenager, I used to like a series of Westerns where the central character was called Sudden. By the time I got there, many of the Sudden books were written by Frederick H Christian. Only after going through many of them I realised that the original set was written by Oliver Strange. Cannot say if it is hindsight, but I found the ones written by Strange more engrossing. They also brought the Wild West to life for me in a much more vivid manner.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. How interesting, Jacqui. I never read take offs of any famous author. I have just finished listening to the audio book of Murder on the Orient Express (I had forgotten the brilliant ending). I was thinking just this week what an incredible writer Agatha was and how I can understand why she is so famous.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Jacqui,

    Is Hercule Poirot also in Murder on the Orient Express? We watched the movie on Amazon Prime recently. My pitiful inability to hear properly made it difficult with the various accents of the characters but I enjoyed the film nonetheless because of this handicap. There’s a remake with Johnny Depp that I’d like to catch. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and review of this dead author series finding new life in another writer. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  15. I do like some the trend of “re imagining” some classic stories and characters. I loved the recent TV show reinventing Sherlock as a modern man. However, it’s difficult to do some much isn’t done right so I am a bit of a sceptic on these.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Me too, about the updated Sherlock Holmes. I have enjoyed both the BBC (I think) version and CBS’s Elementary TV show. It was funny to hear that ratings of Elementary were poor in the US, great overseas, so they were going to continue the show!

      Liked by 2 people

  16. Hi Jacqui – Interesting to read your review … I’ve never heard of Sophie Hannah … but I tried one of the Holmes’ ones … and think that I’ll give this ‘re-try’ a miss … other books call me – thanks for the review though – cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Excellent review, Jacqui!! It’s hard to revive classics. You really need skill to do this and not everyone can pull it off.

    And I learned a few things too. Christie sold over 2 billion books?! And Poirot had an obituary in the New York Times?! That’s fascinating!! Thanks for those interesting facts. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  18. As a fan of Sophie Hannah’s writing I was tempted to try these continuations but also, like you, been wary! I’ve read most of Agatha Christie’s work and was not certain how another author could tackle her style, superb characters … your post has piqued my curiosity and I might well give one a go.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Skipping pages?! Well, that says it all, doesn’t it? I´m always very wary when modern authors try to revive the classics, like with Sherlock Holmes for instance which also doesn’t convince me.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. As a fan of Sophie Hannah’s writing I was tempted to try these continuations but also, like you, been wary! I’ve read most of Agatha Christie’s work and was not certain how another author could tackle her style, superb characters … your post has piqued my curiosity and I might well give one a go.

    Liked by 2 people

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