Other long running series include Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series which ran from 1934 to 1975 with one novel, Death Times Three, published posthumously in 1985. Ngaio Marsh’s Roderick Alleyn series ran from 1934 to 1982. With Courtney’s War, Smith will surpass the record which is held by Agatha Christie’s Poirot series. Christie, who published her first Poirot novel in 1920 and her last in 1974 (Curtain was published in 1975 while the author was still alive but it was written in 1940), fell ill with a form of dementia in 1971 and died in January of 1976.
Smith’s Courtney novel series follows the Courtney family – a South African family whose history intertwines with the history of that continent – from 1660 through 1987.
Wilbur Smith said: “My grandfather was a great storyteller, a man who could hit a spittoon at five paces without spilling a drop of tobacco. He could spin a tale to make the eyes of an eight-year-old boy start out of their sockets. In his youth he had commanded a Maxim gun team during the Zulu Wars. His name was Courtney James Smith. It’s from his spirit that the great adventures of the Courtney family started. He would be pleased to know they were still alive and running today, so many generations after his passing.”
Wilbur Smith has several other long-running series. There are four Ballantyne family novels track that titular family from 1860 to 1980, and connect with the Courtneys in The Triumph of the Sun. Smith’s Ancient Egypt series takes place during the reign of Pharaoh Memnon (roughly the mid-1500s B.C.), and his Hector Cross books are thrillers set in the modern day. Smith has also written several standalone novels, including The Sunbird (1972), which catalogues an archeological dig and deliberately plays with structural styles.
Smith recommends his Courtney series to first time readers, saying that readers here “will learn that people are people. And African history, in all its horrible beauty, shows the darkest depths and majestic, soaring heights of human nature.” Smith himself was born in 1933 in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia. During his life, Smith has seen monumental political and social developments across the African continent and he chronicled it all in his 2018 memoir, On Leopard Rock. These changes have inspired the lion’s share of his work, a bibliography of historical fiction set during four centuries of sometimes clashing, sometimes cooperating cultures in Africa and afar.