When twenty writers each contribute a chapter to a novel, the result can be fun or a disaster. Inherit the Dead is a little of both. Seeing how each writer adds his or her spin and comparing different writing styles is an enjoyable way to read a novel. Serial novels are more entertaining when each writer adds plot twists that are meant to challenge the writers that follow, although the resulting story often lacks coherence. This isn't that sort of novel. The writers were "following a plan" which I assume means a plot outline, and most of them did little more than that. Inherit the Dead has few twists of any kind, leaving the impression that none of the writers wanted to add a complication that would make the project more difficult for writers of subsequent chapters. More distressing is that few of the writers tried to imprint the story with a personality, resulting in a book that has none. Inherit the Dead is a remarkably bland novel -- not a disaster, not really bad, but nothing to be excited about.
Chapter 1 by Jonathan Santlofer sets up an ordinary premise: Ex-cop turned private detective Perry Christo is asked to find Angel, Julia Druscilla's missing twenty-year-old daughter. If Angel doesn't sign some trust documents on her twenty-first birthday, her share of a sizeable trust will be forfeited to Julia. Christo was booted off the police force for misconduct that remains unspecified until chapter 2's writer fills in the details, but we're given to believe that the accusations were false, making Christo a typical wronged-cop-turned-PI. Santlofer also appends a first-person narrative to the end of the chapter, voiced by someone who is following Christo. Some of the other writers do the same, but that aspect of the novel is largely abandoned by its midway point.
One reason to read a book with so many different voices (and, I suspect, one reason writers contribute their voices) is the possibility of finding a pleasing voice the reader hasn't previously encountered. I recognized the names of most of the contributing authors, but several I had not read before. Stephen Carter, Sarah Weinman, and Bryan Gruley all encouraged me to look for their work. Some writers who were more familiar to me made worthy, if unimpressive, additions to the novel, including James Grady, Lisa Unger, Dana Stabenow, Val McDermid, Mary Higgins Clark, C.J. Box, and Max Allan Collins. Strong chapters were turned in by exceptionally strong writers: John Connolly is the first writer to put serious flesh on Christo's bones; Ken Bruen infuses the story with his biting Irish anger; Mark Billingham restores Bruen's edginess to the story; and Lawrence Block ties together the loose threads with the skill of a seasoned writer.
The contributions of several writers (many of whom have done better work than they display here) failed to impress me. Marcia Clark's chapter was shallow, as was S.J. Rozan's. The chapters by Heather Graham and Charlaine Harris were better suited to a trashy romance novel. Alafair Burke made no significant contribution to the plot but decided Christo should be whinier -- a bad choice.
Inherit the Dead was written in support of a charitable cause, so kudos to the writers for taking the time to do it. It strikes me as false advertising, however, to list Lee Child as one of the writers. Child dashed off a three page introduction praising all the writers for being so wonderful but he didn't contribute a chapter of his own. However praiseworthy the other writers might be for contributing their time, any of them writing individually would probably have produced a novel with a stronger plot and fleshier characters. If I could, I would give Inherit the Dead 3 1/2 stars: a small step above mediocrity but not a book that made me say, "yeah, I really liked that."