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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Novel by Committee

It's not a bad idea, and full kudos to Lee Child for his continuing efforts to get other crime writers noticed. Under his sponsorship (he wrote the introduction) twenty authors played a sort of pass the parcel with a premise, the idea being to come up with a joint novel.

Maybe it takes you back to memories of childhood games, too.  Someone writes a stirring paragraph, then passes on the paper to the next in line, who adds another paragraph, and so on and so forth, the story developing in fits and starts as it goes along, until some lucky person gets to write the ending.

It also reminds me of a long-ago conversation with one of the writers for the English boys' magazine Eagle. The way he told the story, he was the co-author of a serial (in words, not comic form) where he and the other author wrote the episodes for six weeks, and then handed it over. Their game was to leave the boy hero in such an impossible situation that the other writer would have to carry out contortions to get out of the mess.

Mike told me that one time he had outdone himself.  He left the hero at the bottom of a pit with forty-foot sheer walls, and snakes writhing amongst pointed poisoned stakes all around him. Then he went off to France for the next three or so weeks, wondering all the time how boy hero would survive.  Then he got home, grabbed the issue that followed his last, and read four deathless words ...

With one mighty leap...

Anyway, back to Inherit the Dead.

"Twenty thrilling writers, one chilling mystery" says the banner at the top of the cover.  Well, whoever wrote that was more creative than the authors, who all too obviously were never readers of the Eagle serial.  The story starts well enough, though the premise is hackneyed -- ex-copper turned PI with a cute name -- Pericles Christo (and yes, that did remind me of M. Connolly's Hieronymus) -- is given the job of contacting a rich woman who wants to report the loss of her daughter.  Rich woman's ex lives in a mansion in the Hamptons, and so Perry heads up Route 27, taken over by another writer.

I lost count of how many times he drove that route. The road itself, as I know from experience, is incredibly boring, and yet writer after writer gets him back behind the wheel.  Perry's personality flexes slightly as each author takes him over, but boy, not as much as some of the other people, including the rich woman and her ex.  The best character by far is an East Hampton police chief by the name of Gawain, so much so that I must look up books by the writer of that chapter, Bryan Gruley.

As I said before, great idea, well worth following. Pity that it fell so flat.

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