Sherlock is an early example of a clever continuing character created by a crackerjack author. From what I’ve read, readers latched on to him and eagerly awaited the next installment of his exploits. When Arthur Conan Doyle tired of him, he arranged for his death.
Not too cool an idea, as it turned out. Over 20,000 devotees cancelled their subscriptions to The Strand magazine that published the lethal tale. Conan Doyle felt forced to bring Sherlock back! A bit tricky since he’d died.
It hooks the reader, doesn’t it, this development of a character that advances from story to story? I’m certainly not immune. When one of my favorites reappears in a new adventure, I know there’re many hours of enjoyment in store.
I have several I like, a very few of which are Spenser, A. X. L. Pendergast and Stephanie Plum.
I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite, but if forced I might decide on Eve Dallas, a tough dedicated New York City homicide cop. She appears with her “zillionaire” husband Roark in the “Death” series, now roughly 50 books, set several decades in the future. J. D. Robb, a pseudonym for bestselling author Nora Roberts, is the gifted creator. When a new “Death” book appears on the scene, I interrupt whatever I’m currently reading and anticipate my immediate future.
Alas, all good things come to an end. Authors, like Conan Doyle, might decide they’ve had enough. They don’t have to kill off their hero; they can simply decide never to write again of his exploits. I wonder if these days the reaction would ever mirror the angry response of the Sherlock fans.
Sadly, sometimes a friend disappears because the author dies. I remember how shocked and upset I was when I heard of the passing of Robert Parker, creator of the Spenser novels, among others. There are many fans of that tough smart witty moral private eye. For me, though, it wasn’t only the love of Spenser per se, but also the brilliance of Parker’s writing. His short rapid paced staccato sentences thrilled me, whether it was a Spenser novel or another.
When an author passes, others sometimes appear to resurrect the character. This certainly has occurred repeatedly with Sherlock. A writer selected by Parker’s estate continues the Spenser series. He does an excellent job and I read him, but it’s not the same.
I can’t help admiring the concept of a continuing character? After all, every time a new story appears there are guaranteed sales. Suppose I had such a character and five people bought a book with three liking him. Then every future book would have three sales. I like to think big.
Of course, I’d need a lovable character. Maybe someone really bright, but perhaps a bit offbeat. Someone modest about his own professional achievements, but possessed of a childlike dream to be a great detective. Someone a bit clumsy. I don’t know. Sounds unlikely.
What’s that crash?
“Dammit to hell!”
Of course it’s Elmo. I should have known he’d reappear. It’s been several weeks since he inserted himself into these posts.
“Elmo, what are you doing on the floor?”
“What does it look like I’m doing? Obviously lying with my nose on the wood.”
This is often what talking with Elmo is like. “I meant why are you on the floor?”
“Oh. Well, if that’s what you mean just ask.”
“So why are you on the floor?”
“Cause I tripped on this cute little doggie here. Kind of like how he’s licking my face. Hate to tell him I’m allergic.”
“Are you all right?”
“Sure, course I am. Came by to ask you something. Just wondering if you’d like me to help out with your next book, you know, solve any murders you might have. You’re aware the readers like me, aren’t you?”
Hmmm. What do you think, folks?