Posthumous collaborations: The April Robin Murders case

1959 paperback edition with artwork by Robert McGinnis.

The recent BBC TV adaptation of Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood, that classic crime novel left unfinished at the time of the author’s death in 1870, got me thinking about ‘enforced collaborations’ where works were completed post-mortem by other hands. Drood has had various attempts at a conclusion provided by many writers over the decades, from Dickens’ friend and collaborator Wilkie Collins to more recent efforts by the likes of John Dickson Carr and Leon Garfield. In this particular case, where the original author’s work ended and another’s begins is very clear-cut. But there are all kinds of ‘ex post facto’ collaborations. Sometimes, even when the mix of authors is more evenly distributed,  you cannot always see the ‘join’ very clearly. Does it change how we feel about such works when we have total understanding of the circumstances surrounding their creation? Are they hybrids, pastiches, or the real thing?

1. a literary, musical, or artistic piece consisting wholly or chiefly of motifs or techniques borrowed from one or more sources.
2. an incongruous combination of materials, forms, motifs, etc., taken from different sources; hodgepodge.

In some cases what we are offered are nothing more than pastiches that have little or nothing to do with the original, as with so many of the so-called HP Lovecraft / August Derleth ‘collaborations’ for instance. These in fact have more in common with a series that is simply being continued by other hands. There are certainly plenty of examples where authors have had their work continued, post-mortem, in the form of authorised publications such as Robert Goldborough’s new books about Nero Wolfe or that small industry in new James Bond novels which has included contributions from such well-respected scribes as Kingsley Amis (as ‘Robert Markham’), John Gardner, Sebastian Faulks and most recently Jeffery Deaver. What price the possibility of a new Millennium book finished by Stieg Larsson’s partner?

The mineral pyrite, or iron pyrite, is an iron sulfide with the formula FeS2. This mineral’s metallic lustre and pale-to-normal, brass-yellow hue have earned it the nickname ‘fool’s gold’ because of its resemblance to gold.

But there are many cases of manuscripts that were left incomplete and which have been completed by other hands – after all, if it’s OK to do it with the likes of Dickens and Hemingway … In the more commercial sphere the goals are clear enough, but in many cases this has still proved quite fruitful with works that stand on their own and not as mere examples of literary archaeology at best or exercises in venal literary grave robbing at worst. Here are some examples of genuine ‘posthumous collaborations’ that I think are worth pointing to, and I’d love to hear suggestions for others for titles in the mystery genre that were successfully published:

Withers Makes the Scene (1969) by Stuart Palmer (completed by Fletcher Flora).
Palmer was an expert collaborator, having worked often with Craig Rice over the years on stories and scripts, even publishing a collection of the joint cases featuring their respective crime-busting characters Hidlegarde Withers and JJ Malone. It appears though that many of these were, in later years, mostly his work as she was incapable of much creative activity by this stage.

Into the Night (1987) by Cornell Woolrich (completed by Lawrence Block)
This is a fascinating example where the terms of the ‘collaboration’ are extremely clear-cut. Woolrich’s biographer (and overall great literary champion) Francis M. Nivens Jr in a long afterword describes how the original manuscript was unfortunately missing several pages (including the first 15 pages and the final 20). Nivens is very specific about exactly what Lawrence Block was called in to do, from writing who sections to literally ‘filling in the blanks’ and even quite candid about what he thinks works and what did not. The result was very successful artistically, though of course late Woolrich is what one might call an ‘acquired’ taste.

Poodle Springs (1989) by Raymond Chandler (completed by Robert B. Parker)
Raymond Chandler had been working on a new Philip Marlowe novel when he dies, but all that remained were 4 brief chapter, published posthumously in Raymond Chandler Speaks. Twenty-five years later Robert B. Parker used this material to start a new work, beginning exactly where Chandler left off. I previously reviewed the book here. His attempt to start a new series of Marlowe novels with a prequel to The Big Sleep was however a real disappointment. The not dissimilar Spade & Archer (2009) by Joe Gores, a prequel to The Maltese Falcon, was rather more successful. Parker’s own Spenser and Jesse Stone series are both due to continue with new writers starting this year.

Thrones, Dominations (1998) by Dorothy L. Sayers (completed by Jill Paton Walsh)
Dorothy L. Sayers had begun a new Lord Peter Wimsey book around 1936 but it never really got beyond the planning stages. Eventually she walked away from fiction to concentrate on translating Dante Divine Comedy into English. Walsh’s book, organised the extant material into the opening six chapters and then pretty much wrote the rest as an original. She has since gone on to write two completely original works featuring Wimsey: A Presumption of Death (2002) and The Attenbury Emeralds (2010)

Another example, and a fine one, is The April Robin Murders (1959), the final novel by Craig Rice that was left unfinished at her death and ultimately completed by Evan Hunter under his ‘Ed McBain’ alias. As I have blogged extensively about the latter author and Patrick of the At the Scene of the Crime blog is a huge fan of the former, this seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. As part of Patrick’s month-long birthday party for his blog (one year old this month), he has undertaken a whole slew of celebratory events, including several collaborations with other bloggers and writers. So as part of the celebrations, we have joined forces to write about ‘this’ enforced collaboration appropriately enough in the form of a four-handed review (our third such attempt, for those keeping score).

Thankfully both of us hale and hearty so at least we were able to do this more or less live (I think – it’s hard to tell on the internet sometimes). To read our joint effort(s) please head over to the post at Patrick’s blog by clicking here.

This two-handed review is also submitted as part of Bev’s 2012 Vintage Mystery Readers Challenge, specifically the ‘Golden Age Girls’ section where I have elected to review at least 8 mysteries by women authors published pre-1960.

This entry was posted in 'In praise of ...', 2012 Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge, Cornell Woolrich, Craig Rice, Ed McBain, Golden Age Girls, Hildegarde Withers, Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler, Robert B. Parker, Stuart Palmer. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Posthumous collaborations: The April Robin Murders case

  1. Love that McGinnis cover on the 1959 edition of THE APRIL ROBIN MURDERS! I’ve never been a fan of POODLE SPRINGS.

    • Hi George, yes, I agree, it’s a lovely painting – I think McGinnis used it more than once actually. I have somewhat mixed feelings about Poodle Springs – I think Parker did a creditable job, writing it probably as well as Chandler might have done at the time. Which is a way of saying, a fair measure below Playback, clearly the least of his novels. But I do think the plot is basically very sound so there are pleasures to be had, albeit perhaps scant ones that require a degree of indulgence from the reader, I admit.

  2. Richard says:

    The only one of the books mentioned here I’ve read is Poodle Springs, and while I agree it’s a level or two below Chandler’s best, it’s readable and entertaining. Parker did a better-than-passable job with it, I think.

    • Hi Richard, thanks for the comments. I do like Parker’s book and the bogamy angle was, I thought, a good one. Because I thought it was a pretty decent stab, the disappointment over his Big Sleep prequel was sadly all the more acute as Perchance to Dream is definitely one of Parker’s lesser efforts by any standard. Really tended to reinforce how different they were as writers while Poodle Springs meshes quite well I think.

  3. MIchael says:

    Thrift store shopping today, I picked this up at a Goodwill, a Book-Club edition of the hardcover…

    Your wonderful collaboration has put it next on my TBR pile.

    • Thanks very much for the vote of confidence Michael. That sounds a much better way to get a copy than the expensive route I took (but then Patrick was working to a deadline plus I knew it would most likely to be a really worthwhile investment). Really look forward to hearing what you have to say about it.

  4. Pingback: THE TIGER AMONG US (1957) by Leigh Bracket | Tipping My Fedora

  5. Pingback: THE G-STRING MURDERS (1941) by Gypsy Rose Lee | Tipping My Fedora

  6. Pingback: THE HORIZONTAL MAN (1946) by Helen Eustis | Tipping My Fedora

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s