From the time I began reading Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries some 60 years ago as a teenager, I was fascinated by how Wolfe and his irrepressible sidekick and chronicler, Archie Goodwin, happened to join forces. We don’t know the answer in Mr. Stout’s compelling mysteries because when Wolfe and Goodwin appear in their first novel, “Fer-de-Lance” (1934), there is no back story and little detail about their previous lives.
This fascination with the beginnings of the partnership continued when I became privileged to be the family-approved continuator of the Wolfe series after Mr. Stout’s death in 1975. During the 1980s and ’90s, I was author of seven Nero Wolfe mysteries for Bantam Books but never delved into the origins of the team. Still, I remained intrigued by the possibility of some day writing about how Archie came to meet Nero.
I became further enthused about the idea in 2009 with the publication of longtime mystery novelist Joe Gores’ “Spade & Archer,” a prequel to Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon.” Mr. Gores, who died in 2011, had captured the essence of Hammett’s characters and the noir flavor of his writing and his settings.
That sealed the deal for me, and I began to form what was to become “Archie Meets Nero Wolfe.” In developing the story, I made use of what few clues Mr. Stout had sprinkled around in his tales, including a brief reference to the kidnapping of a wealthy hotelier’s son. That kidnapping became a central focus of my book, along with young Archie Goodwin’s coming of age as a detective in the Manhattan of 1930.
Approved by Mr. Stout’s estate, “Archie Meets Nero Wolfe” will be released this fall, both in print and as an e-book, by Mysterious Press and its longtime head, Otto Penzler. Mysterious Press also will be re-releasing my seven earlier Wolfe novels as e-books. For me, working with Mr. Penzler seems fitting, because it was at his Mysterious Bookshop in New York that I had the launch of my first Nero Wolfe novel, “Murder in E Minor,” 28 years ago.
The recent announcement that the late Robert B. Parker’s “Spenser” and “Jesse Stone” mysteries will live on under new authors is just the latest in a long line of series continuations. Mystery writer Ace Atkins is writing a Spenser novel for Spring 2012 publication, while Hollywood producer Michael Brandman will bring Jesse Stone back in a novel this September.
Series continuations under later authors have been both lauded and damned. As the one who extended the life of Rex’s Stout’s famed private eye Nero Wolfe with seven novels in the 1980s and ’90s, I got both praise and derision–praise from readers who were glad to have more tales of Wolfe and his loyal right-hand, Archie Goodwin, and derision from those who either lamented that “you haven’t got it right” or who felt fictional characters should be allowed to die with their creators.
Otto Penzler, longtime mystery publisher and bookstore owner, falls into that latter camp. Quoted in an April Wall Street Journal article about the Spenser continuations, Penzler said he has “a philosophical opposition to people picking up other writers’ series.”
In many instances, the estate of the creator approves a continuator. Such was the case with the new Spenser stories, which were approved by Parker’s widow, Joan. The estate of Margaret Mitchell has okayed multiple sequels to her iconic “Gone with the Wind.” Several writers including my friend Raymond Benson got the green-light from the estate of Ian Fleming to do more James Bond stories. And I received the blessing of the Rex Stout estate in my continuations. Interestingly, Parker himself also was a continuator, completing the unfinished Raymond Chandler manuscript of “Poodle Springs,” a Philip Marlowe story. He also wrote “Perchance to Dream,” a sequel to Chandler’s “The Big Sleep.”
In another recent development, novelist Jamie Freveletti has been invited by the estate of the late Robert Ludlum to continue Ludlum’s “Covert One” series. So the beat goes on, and it is a good bet we have not seen the last of continuators rising up to carry on the adventures of fictional characters that have engendered and strong and fiercely loyal followings.