Reports that Sophie Hannah has been commissioned to write a second Hercule Poirot novel have provoked plenty of interest and comment. There are conflicting views on whether "continuation novels", where present day writers produce new stories featuring long-established characters, are a Good Thing, so I thought I'd contribute a few observations to the debate.
The first thing to say is that there's nothing new about the idea of continuation stories. People other than Conan Doyle started writing about Sherlock Holmes a very long time ago. But it's fair to say that continuation novels have become much more popular, and common, in recent years. So we have new James Bond stories, written by a variety of very distinguished writers, new Hercule Poirot stories from Sophie, new Wimsey stories from Jill Paton Walsh, new Albert Campion stories by Mike Ripley, and so on.
Some readers take the view that they want to stick with the original stories by the original authors, and that is, of course, a perfectly understandable and reasonable choice. It is also occasionally suggested that there's something inappropriate about present day writers writing new stories about characters created by others. This is a viewpoint I understand, but do not share.
There's nothing at all wrong, in my opinion, in writers - regardless of whether or not they are already bestsellers- being paid to produce stories that people want to read. Those writers still produce books about their own characters, but I am pretty sure that their attitude towards writing about other characters is much the same as mine, when I wrote the stories in The New Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes: there is something very pleasurable about soaking oneself in a fine writer's work, and seeking to give it new life. It's a challenge to one's professional skills as an author. My guess is that this, coupled with the sheer fun of it, is why the likes of Jeffrey Deaver, William Boyd, Sebastian Faulks, Anthony Horowitz, Sophie, Mike, Jill, and company relish tackling continuation fiction.
For me, the real issue - as with any piece of writing - is whether the story is well done. A poor continuation novel is at least as disappointing as any other poor novel. There are, for instance, some rather laboured Sherlockian pastiches around, though there are many good ones. But some continuation stories are highly enjoyable. The fact that continuations are becoming more commonplace suggests that there is a significant demand for such books, and if this trend continues, I wouldn't be surprised if more detectives from the past are given a fresh incarnation in the 21st century.