Laura Miller in Salon:
When we love characters in popular fiction, we really, really love them. We dress up like Scarlett O’Hara or Harry Potter on Halloween, we make pilgrimages to Baker Street in search of 221B, we join groups dedicated to the admiration of Batman and ask ourselves over and over again what Holden Caulfield would do. In the case of series fiction, the creator of such a character often tires of him or her long before the public does, as happened to both Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie, who grew well and truly sick of Hercule Poirot and his little gray cells. And, finally, inevitably, we run out of books. Even the singularly prolific P.G. Wodehouse was only human, and sad is the day when the devotee of Bertie Wooster and his gentleman’s gentleman, Jeeves, finishes the very last unread volume of that immortal oeuvre. It’s no surprise then that publishers often contemplate having another writer extend a particularly successful fictional franchise. Also unsurprising is the tendency of such efforts to fall flat. Alexandra Ripley was no Margaret Mitchell, and even if she was licensed by Mitchell’s estate to continue the story of “Gone With the Wind,” the original novel’s fans (they call themselves Windies), were unenthused by the results.
Lately, though, publishers have been pulling out some mighty big guns in the series revival game. This fall, two celebrated British novelists, Sebastian Faulks (“Birdsong”) and William Boyd (“Any Human Heart”) have published a new Jeeves and Wooster and a new James Bond novel, respectively. Come spring, the Booker Prize-winning novelist John Banville will publish a new Philip Marlowe novel under the pseudonym he uses for his own detective fiction, Benjamin Black. All three of these authors can be counted among the most esteemed British literary novelists alive today — which is a far cry from pen-for-hire jobbers like Ripley.