The idea that Brian Leno and Tom Krabacher and I cast wary eyes toward the new James Patterson “Shadow” novel recently drove the noted book and pulp collector Kevin Cook into a berserker frenzy.
“Why the [sulphurous blasphemy] do you guys keep reading pastiches?” Kevin demands to know.
“Brian and Tom, you both know better.”
(Wait a second here — don’t I know better, too?)
“Read the original. There are over THREE HUNDRED of them!!!
“Hell, just the 21 Conan stories written by Robert E. Howard are enough.
“You don’t need cheap imitations.
“I only read Tarzan written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Conan written by Robert E. Howard and Sherlock Holmes written by Arthur Conan Doyle.
“Join me by not buying and supporting this knock-off crap.”
I was in the vanguard of the anti-pastiche movement — Kevin Cook didn’t mount up in 1976 and write “Conan vs. Conantics.”
But it comes down to regarding something as literature vs. the commercial use of characters someone thinks they can sell to a newer maybe wider audience. My baseline concern would be that readers don’t get confused over what’s what — REH’s Conan is Conan, L. Sprague de Camp’s (pronounced El Spray guh dee Kamp’s) Conan is not.
Chandler is Chandler, Robert B. Parker trying to imitate him is laughable. The Joe Gores prequel to The Maltese Falcon serves as a way to protect the character rights, but anyone who takes it seriously needs to stop reading and start drinking.
And so on.
And even the real thing doesn’t always come off the Top Shelf.
REH did several Conan yarns nowhere near his best level. Doyle lost the magic in a lot of the later Holmesian adventures. And pretty much everyone concedes that the 24 Tarzan novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs break down into 10 or 12 good ones, with the rest ERB merely imitating himself as if he too were a pasticheur.
For something like The Shadow, I go easier on someone wanting to give it a shot. A deliberate commercial creation at Street & Smith, soon running parallel with a popular radio series, it was made for someone like James Patterson to come in at this late date with an assistant from his fiction factory and have a go.
(Personally, I wonder what some great action writer like Jean-Patrick Manchette might have done with the framework — think of the exquisite bullet battles between The Shadow and the desperate thugs of gangdom!)
And of the 325 issues of The Shadow magazine issued by Street & Smith and “authored” by Maxwell Grant, not all are great. Walter B. Gibson did most, and curated the definitive version in the early issues — but after awhile the editors told him to stop monkeying around with his wildass scenarios and make the pulp narratives more like the radio show. Bring in Margo Lane. Have Lamont Cranston be The Shadow’s Bruce Wayne, instead of the intriguing alternatives Gibson introduced.
I figure there must be at least 10 to 20 top Shadow novels by Gibson, and for my own reference think I’ll sit down when I get a moment and knock out a list.
Meanwhile, Leno tells me, “I just started reading Patterson’s book, fifty pages in maybe.
I stopped reading for a bit because the suspense was killing me.
“I don’t think this book is going to send me on a quest to own a complete Patterson library.
“But, to be fair, it’s early.”
When Leno reviews a book, he gives it an even shake.