Watching The Detectives

Dime MysteryI am always at the beginning, middle, or end of a book. While my primary interests vacillate between biographies and works of nonfiction, my guilty pleasure is in the mystery and crime genre. In particular, I like series featuring the same hard boiled police detectives or private investigators that the reader can develop a relationship with over years, or in some cases, decades. Think of Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder, John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport, or Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole, to name merely a few. There’s at least a baker’s dozen that I religiously follow.

Several years ago I had a sobering thought: what would happen to one of my beloved literary characters when the author passed on? I imagined it would be the end of the line, the final chapter. But no so fast.

With 71 books published, Robert B. Parker created a money-making franchise with Boston PI Spenser, and he also had two other concurrent series featuring Jesse Stone – the sheriff of a small Massachusetts beach town – and a female detective by the name of Sunny Randall. He had sold over 15 million copies of his books and was still turning out three per year up until January 2010, when he had a heart attack and died.

He was the first of my favorite aging authors to pass on, and I recall being both elated and aghast when I read that his family decided to hire a replacement for him to carry on the series – a ghostwriter in the real sense of the word. So it came to be that Ace Atkins, a pretty interesting blues-infused crime author himself, took the job to keep Spenser alive.

The titles of the Atkins-written Spenser books sound a bit clunky and silly: Robert B. Parker’s Lullaby, Robert B. Parker’s WonderlandRobert B. Parker’s Cheap Shot and this week brought Robert B. Parker’s Kickback. But do they sell? And are they representative of Parker’s work? If you can believe the reader reviews on Amazon, and see them shoot up on the bestseller’s lists, the answer is a resounding yes. In fact, many say they can barely tell the difference between each author’s style and writing.

Just in case you were wondering about the Jesse Stone series, the Parker family hired another writer to continue that, and a third writer has brought back some of Parker’s Western-themed characters.

Should any of this seem odd to you, I would imagine you’re not alone. Many are appalled. But Parker is not the only author who managed to find life after death. The estates of Ian Fleming (James Bond) and Robert Ludlum (the Bourne series) have soared in popularity and generated millions and millions of dollars at the hands of other writers.

While I know that it might seem that I’ve chosen to stray off my usual topic of music, fear not. Because all this talk has made me wonder of the possibilities that lay ahead for many of our senior citizen folkies and rockers.

As record labels scramble for every crumb, and there is a never-ending corporate thirst for generating more, more, and more profit, just how far-fetched would it be to see something in the future like Bob Dylan’s Redhead on Brunette, written and recorded by a 25-year-old runner-up from The Voice? Actually, it sounds plausible, probable, and downright horrific. Get ready.

This was originally published by No Depression, as an Easy Ed’s Broadside column.