I am about to embark on reading the Barchester Murders by G M Best which is following hot on the heels of having just read The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah.
Each book takes characters from an existing series of another author (and in Best’s case their author as well) and uses them in a new book.
This kind of thing has gone on no doubt since almost the first novel’s publication but seems to be becoming more prevalent now. People like reading about favourite characters and when they have read everything by a particular author, they cast about for more to feed their craving. Such books cater to this market.
My first concern is whether these new works are respectful to their sources.
There is no doubt, listening to Sophie Hannah, that she has been a fan of Agatha Christie from childhood. Thus she approaches writing a new novel featuring Poirot with a fan’s perspective.
The fact that Agatha Christie expressly stated she did not want others to continue her detective series after her death is an important argument against the writing of a new Poirot story. Should that be the only voice in the debate though? Can fans’ desires for more justify overriding the original author’s wishes?
I have strong reservations about the practice. In particular I am concerned about how such a book is marketed. In the case of The Monogram Murders the prominent use of Agatha Christie’s name on the cover and a strap-line “the brand new Hercule Poirot mystery” stretches the limits of what I feel confortable with.
Sophie Hannah is a very successful author on her own right and so can deflect arguments that she is riding on the coat-tails of her illuatrious predecessor. Indeed, she can point to increased sales of Agatha Christie novels in the months following the massive publicity and marketing exercise that accompanied the launch of her book.
I find this argument persuasive. If a new book stimulates people to go back to the originals then that cannot be a bad thing.
Which brings me to The Barchester Murders. It cannot be said that Best has the same scale of success or number of followers as Sophie Hannah. This leaves the accusation of riding on coat-tails more difficult to deny.
Will The Barchester Murders bring new readers to Trollope? In all honesty, I doubt Best can hope to do this.
It may however be a respectful supplement to Trollope’s Barchester chronicles. I would certainly argue that could be said of John Wirenius’s sequel to the Palliser series Phineas at Bay.
There is also a question in my mind about Best’s decision to cross genres and write a murder mystery novel with Trollope as a detective. Having an author as detective is not new. Nicola Upson has author Josephine Tey as her detective. But Tey was a crime writer and so there is not the risk of shoehorning a person into an unfamiliar genre as we face with Trollope in The Barchester Murders.
Having said that, a mash-up of genres can produce something new and exciting. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies credited to Jane Austen and modern writer Seth Grahame-Smith was for me a successful and playfully irreverant adaptation of a classic novel.
So it isn’t always essential to be respectful if that means to set the original in aspic.
So what it boils down to in the end is: does the new book stand on its own merits.
I will let you have my views when I have finished it.