Booker prize 2: Third time lucky?

After her second win, can Hilary Mantel make it a hat-trick? Perhaps, but the final part of any trilogy, as Simon Usborne discovers, is a very tricky beast

Acts don't come much tougher to follow than your second book when it wins you the most prestigious prize in British literature – again. And Hilary Mantel isn't finished yet. At the start of her victory lap yesterday, the author promised that the final instalment of her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, which charts the rise and fall of the minister in the court of King Henry VIII, would "bring it home in style".

Would that all trilogists could be so confident. Mantel has the best possible form after winning the Man Booker prize for Bring Up the Bodies three years after victory with Wolf Hall but is doing nothing to limit expectation. Cromwell III, AKA The Mirror And The Light, is still in the research stage but, she told the Today programme: "What I'm trying to do is make three books that stand up independently, yet the third book will have to contain them all."

Many auteurs have fallen victim to the curse of the Tricky Trilogy. Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather I and II won nine Academy Awards. III? Not a sausage. George Lucas suffered similarly with Return of the Jedi, the last in his original Star Wars trilogy, but then he could be forgiven for that relative turkey when you consider what followed.

Back in books, Richard Ford knows how Mantel feels. The American writer won a Pulitzer for Independence Day, the second book in his Bascombe trilogy about an estate agent, and was praised for part one, The Sportswriter. The ultimate work, The Lay of the Land, however, was the least-well received. The New York Times called it "lethargic".

Suzanne Collins found consistency in her Hunger Games trilogy, though some fans criticised her attempts to tie up loose ends in Mockingjay, the third book, and there were few complaints among Tolkien fans about the end of The Lord of the Rings. But joint holders of the bring-it-home-in-style prize are surely Philip Pullman and Pat Barker.

Pullman concluded the His Dark Materials trilogy with The Amber Spyglass, which won the 2001 Whitbread Book of the Year award, while Barker bagged a Booker for The Ghost Road, the final part of her Regeneration trilogy, four years after part one had also been nominated.

Few would bet against Mantel going one better and scoring a hat-trick.

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