The Agony of a Sequel Writer – Sophie Hannah, David Lagercrantz, Tilly Bagshawe

How do we feel when we learn that our favourite author is no more? How do we feel when we realised that we are rapidly running out of our favourite author’s books or our favourite series? We feel sad. And then suddenly there is an announcement. A new Poirot mystery is coming. A new Lisbeth Salander book is coming. There is another Sydney Sheldon mystery is there. When I came to know about this, I was happy. But the aftermath of a new Poirot mystery made me believe that, not everybody was happy like me. Sophie Hannah the author to whom the responsibility was given to further the Poirot mysteries was vehemently attacked as was Agatha Christie’s great grandson James Prichard. Okay, so let me go into details. There is an institute that manages Agatha Christie legacy. The head of that management is Agatha Christie’s great grandson. So that trust or management chose Sophie Hannah to write another Poirot mystery. She just did not wake up one morning and published a Poirot. Nobody can do that, there is a thing called “copyright”, remember? People approached her, and she wrote. Now about people criticising James Prichard, Agatha Christie’s great grandson, I do not know whether he did it to make profit. I do not know his ulterior motive, I am not Poirot! What I know is I was happy when I learned that there was a Poirot mystery coming, and I have not read it yet. That was enough for me. I am an insomniac, and at night I read. Just few months before the “Monogram Murders” publication I had finished the entire series of Poirot. So I got hold of “Monogram Murders” as soon as possible. I read it, and I loved it. To be honest it was evident quite blatantly that it was not written by Agatha Christie. But there were few places where Sophie Hannah was almost there. As an avowed Agatha Christie fan, I know that that is a big deal. Both in “Monogram Murders” and “Closed Cascade” Sophie Hannah tried to create the familiar ambience of Agatha Christie. So in “Monogram Murders” there is the description of hotel, London street and in addition to that the walks and the investigation in countryside. In “Closed Cascade” on the other hand there is that all too familiar a grand house, staircases, detailed description of all the guests and the position of their respective rooms. And Sophie Hannah was able to put all the measurements so well. The distance from one place to another, from the upper floor room to the ground floor library always played a vital role in Agatha Christie mystery. In this book Hannah explored a side of human nature that interests and annoys me at the same time. I do not want to give away the ending, but it was the main trait of the murderer. Now I am not going to say more. Just that no one can surpass Agatha Christie. But anything that even resembles Agatha Christie gives me immense happiness. But then anything written after Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple or Poirot is always going to have a resemblance, a shadow of its predecessors.

Something very unusual happened with “The Girl with Dragon Tattoo” series. I watched the movies first, the Noomi Rapace Michael Nyqvist ones, the Swedish ones. And then I read the books. It was not a conscious decision, it just happened that I came across the movies first and then found the books. At a stretch read all three and thoroughly enjoyed them. Then I thought it would be great to have a few more of Lisbeth’s ventures. Then discovered the author Steig Larsson has died in 2004. I was disheartened. It was, I thought in every possible way, an untimely death. I dug deeper, as I always do, and came to know about the whole uproar about the Steig Larsson legacy that was garnered after “The Girl with Dragon Tattoo” fame and the feud about it between Larsson family and his partner of 30 years Eva Grabrielsson. I think it was unfortunate that such ugly thing had to happen around that great writer. He could not even see his literary and monetary success. And I do not think that he was bothered about money. All he probably wanted to do was to write. Only after the greats leave, the petty commoners fight about his fruits of labour. But let’s not concentrate on this unpleasant issue anymore. Let’s talk about the 4th instalment of the series, “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” by David Lagarcrantz. It was published in 2015. I liked it, because again I was happy to read another Lisbeth thriller. The author kept the essence alive. There is internet, hacking, cyber-crime, dark web, malware, an inter-continental conspiracy, complicated relationships. Lagarcrantz loyally kept situations also the same and why not, if the characters are the same! So in “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” also Lisbeth spends time looking at Gamla Stan in the evening, alone. But what is intriguing is that the 4th book ends with Lisbeth at Blomkvist’s door as in the 3rd book ends with Blomkvist at Lisbeth’s door. In spite these similarities, I would say Lagarcrantz was already protected from criticism because the story was so infused with technical details, that it was quite difficult to find loopholes regarding trueness of Steig Larsson.

The first Sidney Sheldon book I read was “If Tomorrow Comes”. I think I was in my early twenties. So for obvious reason I was enthralled. The female protagonist Tracy Whitney was a character who was bound to be appealing to girls. A girl who was initially mild and polite, but after going through an ordeal she emerges as this strong person who avenges all the wrong doings. The hero Jeff Stevens was a perfect foil to her. Sidney Sheldon was often criticised for his graphic sexual description. But I noticed something else, suppose in one page you are reading about a graphic description, but on the next page there will be a twist that can just blow the reader’s mind. I also read his autobiographical memoir “The Other Side of Me”. Only two things I can still remember from that book, firstly how his family used to cut the toothpaste tube so they did not waste anything and secondly he suffered from bi-polar disorder. I do not know why I remember these two things. By the way his most famous novel is “Rage of Angels”; the female protagonist is Jennifer Parker. It is an unusual novel. And the ending is… No, nothing! So the publisher of Sheldon’s books Hachette Book Group wanted more Seldonesque books and they decided that this British author Tilly Bagshawe has a similar writing style, and so came Tracy’s “Chasing Tomorrow”, “Reckless”. There was “Mistress of the Game”, sequel to “Master of the Game” which was my favourite Sidney Sheldon book. I read Tilly Bagshawe’s other books too. What can I say; you should read her books if you do not want to put any strain on your brain. See, it was like you are on a diet, but sometimes you eat few packets of chips and coke. Her books are like that. So my reaction to Tilly’s Sidney Sheldon’s sequels is lukewarm, because those could be Tilly Bagshawe novels without few names that have appeared already in Sidney Sheldon.

So the point i am trying to make through this long article is these sequel writers did not snatch the torch but was given to carry it further.

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