If you were to walk through a bookstore, you’re likely to find the bestsellers stacks haunted by ghost writers.
These include not just those anonymous hacks who actually write the memoirs of celebs, or who keep James Patterson’s pot boiling, but even those who have passed on, resurrected from beyond that full stop that’s now turned into an ellipse.
Just about the only thing that can prevent authors past from providing pastiches present on those racks is the fact that brick-and-mortar booksellers themselves are close to extinct, while reading may have been rekindled with e-books.
The fitting title for this 21st century phenomenon is The Ludlum Franchise. Robert Ludlum, the American author of thrillers, died in 2001, but since then books bearing his name have numbered over 20, nearly equalling the total for those actually penned by him while alive. This has turned into a factory that’s as difficult to kill off as Ludlum’s super agent Jason Bourne.
That spirit of revival now afflicts many other dead authors, giving a whole new meaning to the phrase deathless prose. Next month, British writer Sebastian Faulks will deliver Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, exhuming PG Wodehouse’s characters Bertie Wooster and his gentleman’s personal gentleman.
As Bertie himself observes in Joy in the Morning, “It was one of those cases where you approve the broad, general principle of an idea but can’t help being in a bit of a twitter at the prospect of putting it into practical effect. I explained this to Jeeves, and he said much the same thing had bothered Hamlet.”
Faulks earlier also wrote a James Bond novel. The latest 007 caper, Solo by William Boyd, was released this month, making for nearly three times the number of post-Ian Fleming books since Bond’s creator died in 1964.
Another author Sophie Hannah is working on reanimating the little grey cells of Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, while Benjamin Black (the pseudonym of Irish Booker Prize-winning writer John Banville) will bring back Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe in The Black-Eyed Blonde, according to British newspaper, The Telegraph.
It’s not as if many of these authors lacked in output. Wodehouse produced nearly 100 books, while Christie was only slightly less prolific, with nearly 90. These fresh efforts, therefore, are about as logical as the American government seeking a higher debt ceiling because, obviously, you can’t have too much of a good thing.
This attack of the clones isn’t limited to pulsating pulp since some literary licences are being renewed. After PD James delivered Death Comes to Pemberley, her 2011 murderous sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, we are in for a retelling of at least three more of the author’s early 19th century classics.
Next week will witness the publication of Joanna Trollope’s version of Sense and Sensibility, to be followed in less than six months by Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey, and thereafter, Emma, as regurgitated by Alexander McCall Smith, according to reports. As Jimi Hendrix, the legendary guitarist who died young, once supposedly said, “It’s funny the way most people love the dead. Once you’re dead, you’re made for life.” Perhaps, this is the fiction counterpart of music’s cover version.
Hollywood may have influenced the publishing industry’s new focus. The website Den of Geek has compiled a list that puts it succinctly: “57 movie remakes and reboots currently in development.”
This trend is fairly fitting in current culture with its fascination for the undead, be they vampires of the Twilight saga or the zombies that populate cable television’s most popular show, The Walking Dead. In fact, at this rate, instead of the whining over the 2014 Man Booker Prize allowing the consideration of American authors, they ought to contemplate a new literature award, with the prizes awarded via planchette.
Books obviously do not come with an expiry date. Nor, it’s now evident, do their authors. Who said dead men (and women) tell no tales?
Currently based in Toronto, Anirudh Bhattacharyya has been a New York-based foreign correspondent for eight years
The views expressed by the author are personal