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When Famous Writers Conspire

Twenty-six authors go in search of a mystery novel — and it’s all for a noble cause

It’s a solid plot but a flexible one, giving each of the 26 contributors ample room to work. Watching these seasoned professionals play off one another is a lark, even as they each put their individual stamp on the material. T. Jefferson Parker and Lori Armstrong provide the type of strong, quirky character studies that make their own books so enjoyable. Matthew Pearl and Diana Gabaldon, best known for their historical novels, show themselves to be perfectly at home in a modern setting. Kathy Reichs, whose forensics-heavy novels inspired the TV series Bones, goes so far as to supply an autopsy report detailing the “liquefied organs and putrefied brain” of the unfortunate Christopher Thomas. Better still, if you’ve been late to the party on such authors as Jeff Abbott and Jonathan Santlofer, No Rest for the Dead lets you sample the tight, suspenseful prose you’ve been missing.

Abstract of man leaning on rail

No Rest is a novel with chapters from 26 top names in contemporary crime fiction. — Photo courtesy of Harald Sund/Getty Images

This type of tag-team storytelling — known as a serial or “round robin” novel — has been tried many times, with varying degrees of success. A 1969 collective effort, Naked Came the Stranger, was a high-profile spoof of the vulgar potboilers of the day. Famously bad and intended as such, it landed on The New York Times best-seller list. Perhaps the most famous example is The Floating Admiral, a collaboration among the members of Britain’s legendary Detection Club back in 1931, which featured such august contributors as Agatha Christie and G. K. Chesterton. As Dorothy L. Sayers explained in her introduction to that novel, each writer was obliged to construct his or her installment with a “definite solution in view,” and to “deal faithfully with all the difficulties left for his consideration by his predecessors.”

No Rest for the Dead is crafted along similar lines. The editors — Andrew and Lamia Gulli, a brother-and-sister team — wanted to give their contributors plenty of latitude without permitting the project to slide into chaos. After furnishing a general outline and some central plot twists, they backed off and let the writers freely spatter their ink. “They were asked not to mess things up for the writers who wrote after them,” Andrew Gulli told AARP The Magazine. “Serial novels get messy when every author tries to write the most pivotal chapter in the book. That’s how you wind up with 15 murders in 15 chapters.” The No Rest crew has neatly sidestepped this trap, yielding a surprisingly fluid, fast-paced thriller that stylishly overcomes the “too-many-cooks” syndrome. “Talk about checking your ego at the door!” Gulli says. “They were incredible.”

As he and Lamia struggled to assemble the pieces of this editorial jigsaw, Gulli admits, frustrating blockages did occur. But an intensely personal motivation helped them see the project through: “All proceeds [excluding contributor fees] are going to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the disease that killed our mother in 1997,” he explains. “For the past four years, No Rest has meant just that — literally no rest after work — but the fight against cancer made it more than worthwhile.”

The Gullis’ heartfelt cause is reason enough to pick up a copy of No Rest for the Dead. Once you do, you’ll find 26 solid arguments to keep reading to the end.

Daniel Stashower is the Edgar-winning author of The Beautiful Cigar Girl.

Also of interest: Crime writer Jo Nebso spins funny tales for kids.

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