Monday, March 31, 2014

Sleeping With Veronica Lake

Authors continuing series created by others is the rage right now. Among the first was Max Allan Collins, finishing up Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer series. (This is a bit of a special case, as Collins had worked hand-in-glove with Spillane for years, and was asked to complete the unfinished Hammer novels by The Mick himself.) Ace Atkins is continuing Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series at the behest of the Parker estate. More recently, Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe has been resurrected by Benjamin Black, who isn’t even really Benjamin Black, but John Banville. (As if who’s writing these books lacks complication already.) Parker himself was an early adopter, having completed Chandler’s unfinished manuscript of Poodle Springs, and penning his own sequel to The Big Sleep, Perchance to Dream.

The only issue I have with this trend is mild disappointment that the reading public is too timid in its tastes to try something new, even after their favorite author has shuffled off his mortal coil. (This should also be an ego check for authors who write series; they love your characters more than they love you. Get over it.) Maybe a reader of one of Atkins’s Spenser novels will be tempted to try a non-Spenser book by the same author. One can only hope.

While I’m good with the idea in principle—anything that pays writers is a good thing, almost by definition—I won’t be reading any of them. No offense to the writers mentioned above, or others who may be earning a living doing the same thing. It’s a matter of authenticity.

L.A. Confidential is one of my favorite movies, as close to a perfect crime film as I can think of. A key plot line involves a stable of prostitutes who pass themselves off as famous actresses of the day, even if a little plastic surgery is required. Ava Gardner. Rita Hayworth. Kim Basinger plays a hooker who passes for Veronica Lake. (And, as Russell Crowe says in the movie, “looks better than Veronica Lake.”) Men will pay premium prices to have sex with these “actresses.”

Here’s the thing: sleeping with a hooker who looks like Veronica Lake isn’t sleeping with Veronica Lake, even if the hooker looks better. Even if she’s better in bed. It ain’t her.

I’ve not read any Atkins or Black yet. I may well do so, when my backlog sorts itself out a little. If/when I do, it will be a book with a world and characters they created. Just as I want the original Chandler or Parker, I’ll want these authors’ unfiltered best, to lose myself in their world, instead of hopelessly trying not to compare them to someone else.


Mike Dennis said...

Dana--I highly recommend WHITE SHADOW by Ace Atkins. It's set in 1950s Tampa and has an Ellroy-LA-Quartet feel to it. In fact, Atkins has two more such Tampa novels in mind to complete a trilogy, which I truly hope he does. I agree with the Veronica Lake analogy, but Atkins shows his real stripes in WHITE SHADOW.

Dana King said...

Thanks, Mike. I'll confess to not being aware of Atkins before he got the Spenser gig, but figured he must have some chops, or the Parker estate would not have picked him.

Adding WHITE SHADOW to the TBR list.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think it's about missing very distinctive characters more than the writing or plots. I haven't read any of them but I can appreciate why devoted fans of a specific character might. Atkins is a great writer in his own right. His new series (starts with THE RANGER) is as good as his earlier work.