Mystery Series Carried On By Other Writers

Jul 26, 2014 | 2014 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Terry Ambrose

Have you ever wondered how that favorite author of yours produced a fabulous book after he died? Was the work written prior to the author’s death and only published afterwards? Was the creative effort put in by the originating author, and then edited by someone else? Or, did someone else take over the series altogether? In screenplays, music, and literature, all of these scenarios take place.

bookLawrence Sanders (March 15, 1920 – February 7, 1998) received the Best First Novel Edgar Award for The Anderson Tapes in 1971. He wrote his first Archy McNally mystery for publication in 1991. Between 1991 and 1997, there were seven McNally mysteries published. After the death of Sanders, his estate chose Vincent Lardo to carry on the series. McNally’s Dilemma debuted in 2004 to good reviews. Library Journal said of Lardo’s first McNally novel, “Full of twists and turns as well as hilarious dialog. The story is well written and will hold one’s interest until the bitter end, leaving you wanting more.” In all, Lardo went on to write eight McNally mysteries.

Max Allan Collins began writing for Mickey Spillane (March 9, 1918 – July 17, 2006). Collins had been friends with Spillane for years and served as the literary executor of Spillane’s will. When Spillane died in 2006, Collins took on the task of completing several of Spillane’s unfinished novels, which meant he didn’t have to begin from scratch, as did Vincent Lardo.

bookThe first novel completed by Collins was Dead Street in 2007. In their November 2007 review, Publishers Weekly said, “Spillane always said he wrote for his fans, not for the critics, but both should be pleased with this late addition to the writer’s canon.”

Robert Ludlum (May 25, 1927 – March 12, 2001) was another prolific thriller writer and many of his novels made it to film. Perhaps best known among those movies are the Bourne series. The third Jason Bourne movie and the last Bourne thriller written by Ludlum was The Bourne Ultimatum, which won three Academy Awards in 2008.

bookAt first, Eric Van Lustbader may not appear to have been a logical choice to continue a bestselling spy-novel series, yet Lustbader has displayed his versatility over the years by producing nine Bourne novels (2004-2014) to praise from reviewers at Booklist and Publishers Weekly. In their review of the first of those novels, The Bourne Legacy, Booklist said, “The Bourne Legacy reads much like Ludlum, which, of course, is exactly the point.” Publishers Weekly called it, “A hearty serving of meat and potatoes action adventure, just the sort of fare that both Ludlum’s and Lustbader’s fans relish.”

Most co-writers get little time to work with the original author. The story behind the Dick Francis novels is quite different. With more than forty international bestsellers to his credit, the name Dick Francis became synonymous with mysteries set in the world of horse racing. But the novels written by Francis were not solely the work of the author. In fact, Dick’s wife Mary and his son Felix, a physics teacher, helped with the research. In his biography, Felix Francis states, “The production of a Dick Francis novel has always been a mixture of inspiration, perspiration and teamwork. The first one was published when I was nine, and I grew up in a house where breakfast talk would be about the damage a bullet might do to a man’s guts rather than the more mundane topics of everyday life.”

bookIn 2007, Berkley published Dead Heat, the first novel collaboratively written by Dick Francis and son Felix. When reviewed by Publishers Weekly, the publication said, “Crisp writing and well-paced action help offset the routine plotting.” Booklist said, “This mix of cooking and racetrack isn’t close enough to horse racing to be completely satisfying Francis, but the action and the hero’s struggles deliver a solid punch.” In 2011, Dick Francis’s Gamble, the first novel written solely by Felix after his father’s death, was published.

Robert B. Parker (September 17, 1932 – January 18, 2010) was on both ends of the ghostwriting spectrum. He, himself, wrote two Philip Marlowe novels for Raymond Chandler in the early 1990s, seventeen years after his 1973 debut of the first “Spenser” novel, The Godwulf Manuscript. Boston PI Spenser took the PI genre by storm and Parker’s fourth Spenser novel, Promised Land, received the Edgar Award from Mystery Writers of America for Best Novel.

Many modern best-selling crime fiction writers cite Robert B. Parker as a writer who influenced not only their writing, but also the genre. When Robert B. Parker died in January 2010, former Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist Ace Atkins, was tapped by the Robert B. Parker estate to continue the Spenser series.

bookThe first book written by Atkins, the 41st in the Spenser series, Lullaby, was published in 2012. Atkins received high praise for his work from Publishers Weekly, which said, “Even the most fanatical Parker fans would be hard pressed to identify any aspect of this Spenser novel that doesn’t read as if it were penned by Spenser’s late creator… Atkins hits all the familiar marks… as he offers familiar pleasures.”

Kirkus Reviews, known as the toughest book critics on the planet, said of the 41st Spenser novel, “Handpicked by the Parker estate to be the keeper of the flame for the Spenser franchise, award-winning author Ace Atkins…rises flawlessly to the occasion.”

Following in the literary shoes of an author who created a bestselling character and series can be a huge challenge for any writer. Should the series be written in a style that emulates the original? Improves on the original work? What do you think? And what are the names of some of your favorite authors who have taken up the reins to carry on a series?

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Terry Ambrose is a former bill collector and skip tracer who now uses that background to write mysteries and thrillers. His debut mystery Photo Finish was a 2013 San Diego Book Awards Finalist. You can learn more about Terry on his website.


  1. I haven’t tried any by the person taking over his writing but I did read all of Parker’s books that he wrote himself! Would be willing to try one!



  1. When a series takes on its own life — Terry Ambrose - […] If you love crime fiction, you’re sure to have read one of these authors and probably more. Did you…

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