“Not much surprises me these days but this news did,” said Ian Rankin of Lee Child’s revelation this weekend that his brother, Andrew Grant, would be continuing the Jack Reacher series. Child said: “For years I thought about different ways of killing Reacher off. First of all, I thought he would go out in a blaze of bullets, something like the end of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It would take an army to bring him down [but] Reacher had to have an afterlife after I was done.”

Not every crime writer thinks this way. Jo Nesbø recently told me there was no way his own super-tough detective Harry Hole would continue after his death – and that he had plans in place to bring about his demise. “He will not have eternal life. He probably won’t die from old age. But then again, who knows?” said Nesbø, adding that he wouldn’t be handing the franchise on to anyone else. “Definitely not. I’m telling you right now – if that should happen, if you see somebody trying, you can quote me on this.”

The late Italian detective novelist Andrea Camilleri always had an end in sight for Inspector Montalbano, writing the final novel in the series 14 years ago, and keeping it in his publisher’s offices in Palermo. “When I get fed up with him or am not able to write any more, I’ll tell the publisher: publish that book. Sherlock Holmes was recovered … but it will not be possible to recover Montalbano. In that last book, he’s really finished,” he said in 2012.

Others, though, have been more than happy to pass on the baton. In taking on a co-author role with his brother, Child follows in the large footsteps of writers such as James Patterson, who works with a handful of co-authors on bestselling lines including the Alex Cross books and Women’s Murder Club series. He’ll write a 50-page outline for his team, who will draft chapters that Patterson will read, revise, and rewrite where he needs to, paying them out of his own pocket.

Wilbur Smith has also gladly collaborated with co-authors in recent years, saying that “my fans have made it very clear that they would like to read my novels and revisit my family of characters faster than I can write them. For them, I am willing to make a change to my working methods so the stories in my head can reach the page more frequently”.

Some writers, however, don’t have much of a choice. There has been a long-running legal wrangle over who owns rights to the late Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan creation, while the posthumous success of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo books has led to a series of ghostwritten follow-ups. David Lagercrantz’s thrillers might be classy enough – but Larsson’s partner Eva Gabrielsson has been stingingly critical of the continuation. “The worst thing is how saddened Stieg would have been. He never let anyone work on his literary texts. He would have been furious.”

By publicly making clear his plans for Reacher, Child hopes to keep his legions of fans happy with “many, many more Reacher stories”, written by a man he describes as “me, 15 years ago, full of energy and ideas”. He would love to write the books himself, he says, but admits that “realistically I’m ageing out of being able” to do it. (Whether sitting on the Booker prize jury, to which Child was appointed earlier this month, will prove a less exhausting way to spend his time remains to be seen.)

The brothers will work on the next few books together, says Child, and then Grant will strike out on his own. “I’m excited to read what he comes up with, because I’m betting it will be great. If I’m Reacher, then so is he. Maybe more so. Trust me – this is going to be the real deal.”

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