Saturday, May 21, 2022

Legacy Authors and That Last Book

Scott D. Parker

One of my favorite sub-genres of music is when legacy artists create new music in the 21st Century. I’m not talking about bands like Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, or Def Leppard who never stopped putting out new music. I’m referring to bands like The Beach Boys (That's Why God Made the Radio), Eagles (Long Road Out of Eden), or David Bowie (Blackstar) who go into the studio basically knowing that the soon-to-be-recorded album will be the swan song. The songs can sometimes acknowledge the passing of time, the artists’ ages, and their long careers.

Yesterday, one of my favorite bands joined the ranks of legacy artists creating new music that fits into this mold. Chicago released “If This Is Goodbye,” from their forthcoming album (not sure if they’ll use XXXVIII or a more streamlined 38). From the title alone, you get the vibe of the song. It is a wistful song with a typical surface meaning of two lovers looking back over their lives but we all know what it’s really saying: This band, through triumphs and tragedies and reinventions, has persevered but the end is nigh. Here’s the link.

It is a sobering thought to have yet another band that have been there my entire life reach the end of the road. KISS, my other favorite band, is literally on their End of the Road Tour. But those founding members of Chicago have been working musicians for nearly 60 years, 55 as Chicago. That’s a good, long run, and they deserve to do whatever they way to do, be it touring or just kicking up their heels and marveling at their accomplishments.

Authors, however, are different. At least I think they are.

I don’t presume to know if every single series character ages. I can’t say if Agatha Christie wrote her last Hercule Poirot novel knowing it would be the end or not.

I’ve only recently started reading the novels and blog posts of Max Allan Collins but in his posts, he talks about slowing down. Now, his output is still pretty prolific, but he acknowledges that some of the aspects of writing—namely the research he needs for his historical mysteries—is more challenging that it used to be. Again, I’m not as well versed with his bibliography as others are, but I wonder if he’s going to start writing that final Heller novel knowing it’s the last one.

Didn’t Michael Connelly age Harry Bosch along the way? Ian Fleming died while writing his final James Bond novel so I suspect that he didn’t approach The Man With the Golden Gun in that way. I don’t know about Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone either.

What about authors who, say, haven’t written a book in twenty years and suddenly come out with a new one? I’m not talking about a found manuscript, a la Erle Stanley Gardner’s 2016 novel The Knife Slipped (written in 1939), that is then republished.

Maybe I’m zeroing in on series characters that actually age along with their creators. How many of them got their last book with an eye to the author knowing it was the last book?

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