From Jason Bourne to Peter Rabbit, some cherished characters are starring in brand-new books — even though their creators have passed on

By Keith Staskiewicz
August 31, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT

Plenty of authors hope their work will live on after their death, but they usually don’t mean literally. This fall, publishers will release a slew of new books emblazoned with the names of such deceased writers as Robert Ludlum, Dick Francis, Robert B. Parker, and Beatrix Potter — continuations of series that are alive and well even if their creators are not.

In the 11 years since his death, Ludlum has become a cottage industry. The latest novel bearing his name, Jamie Freveletti’s The Janus Reprisal, hits stores on Sept. 11. It’s the ninth entry in the Covert-One franchise, most of which was written after his 2001 passing. Though Ludlum penned only three novels about amnesiac supersoldier Jason Bourne while he was alive, seven more have come out since then. ”Bob never wrote it to be a series,” says Eric Van Lustbader, who took over writing the Bourne books. Van Lustbader was initially reluctant to be a ”continuator,” as he puts it, especially since he was a friend of Ludlum’s. But eventually he agreed. ”There are some unique characters who really do transcend their writers and, if handled correctly, can be continued.”

Before his fatal heart attack in 2010, Parker had created two such characters: small-town sheriff Jesse Stone and Boston PI Spenser, who both have new titles this year. ”These are series characters,” explains Ace Atkins, who now writes the Spenser books (beginning with May’s Lullaby). ”They were designed that way. It’s a bit different from trying to write, say, Gone With the Wind 2.” Michael Brandman, whose second Stone mystery, Fool Me Twice, is out Sept. 11, says readers are as enthusiastic as publishers are to keep franchises going. ”Even my feeble attempts at replicating what Bob did seem to be welcomed by audiences,” says Brandman. (Some series even take a dynastic approach: Dick Francis’s Bloodline, out Oct. 2, was penned by his son Felix.)

Posthumous continuation isn’t confined to the thriller genre. Actress Emma Thompson has written The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit (out Sept. 18), the first new Peter Rabbit tale in 80 years. ”We thought long and hard before we decided to commission another,” says the book’s editor, Jo Hanks. ”But in the end we thought it was worth it to introduce Beatrix Potter’s character to a new audience.” Though it does make you wonder (or worry): Eight decades from now, will we see a sequel to another beloved Potter?