Some Authors Are Dead But Still Writing
Remember Virginia Andrews? Her ‘Flowers In The Attic’ novels began appearing in 1979 and became surprise bestsellers. They were airless, claustrophobic works about four siblings locked in an attic in order to gain an inheritance. The incestuous melodramas appealed to teenaged girls, so when Andrews died she was replaced by another writer called Andrew Neiderman, who penned over 40 further volumes in her name. They did so well that her estate kept her alive and earning, the Inland Revenue Service cannily arguing that her name was still a taxable asset.
The Andrews case opened the floodgates; authors who were deceased started writing again. Robert Ludlum continues to have a healthy writing career despite the minor inconvenience of being dead. Authors are sometimes trademarked so that new books are merely ‘in the style of’ the earlier works that made their names. An entire necrophilic industry has sprung up wherein Jane Eyre and Elizabeth Bennet continue their amorous affairs, Poirot still investigates, Jeeves still bails out Wooster.
Anthony Horowitz is going to do another ‘official’ Sherlock Holmes, which means the Conan Doyle estate has agreed to milk yet more cash out of the creation. His last one wasn’t very good, and hung on a premise that Conan Doyle would have found in extremely poor taste – but of course the four novels were never that great, and the real strength of Holmes always lay in short stories.
One of the most interesting and worthy cases is that of Kyril Bonfiglioli. His novels aren’t ordinary enough to be simple crime capers; they’re scabrous, witty, packed with demanding intelligent jokes, rude in the very best sense. His hero is the snobbish dandy art thief Charlie Mortdecai, a delicious creation who outrages art world dullards as he heads towards come-uppance and a disgraceful cliffhanger of an ending in ‘Don’t Point That Thing At Me’. Mortdecai returned (with no explanation whatsoever for the precipitous season-end interim) in ‘After You With The Pistol’ and ‘Something Nasty In The Woodshed’.
Everyone agrees that Bonfigioli should have become world famous. The sad truth was that although his joyous books would have you believe otherwise, he lived in various states of poverty and alcoholism, and died of cirrhosis. His wife Margaret told me that her husband was adept at knife throwing, fencing and frying peas in Worcestershire sauce. She also pointed out that he could shoot a sixpence from the bravely held-out thumb and forefinger of a visiting French art dealer, standing at the far end of a large room. So he was rather like his main character.
Bonfiglioli died three-quarters of the way through ‘The Great Mortdecai Moustache Mystery’, which was published posthumously, having been finished by the literary mimic Craig Brown, a forgery act Bonfiglioli would surely have adored. This time it was a labour of love, not about flogging a dead brand.