Inspired by the recent-ish news that several fan favourite detectives from crime and mystery fiction are being brought to big or small screen life (e.g. David Morrissey to play Mark Billingham's Tom Thorne in a series of telemovies, Grey's Anatomy's Katherine Heigl to play Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum in the first of what could be a series of feature films, Angelina Jolie to play Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta in a feature film not strictly based on any of the books, and Wild at Heart's Stephen Tompkinson to play Peter Robinson's Inspector Banks in a 2-part ITV series), I have been thinking about whether it's a good or bad thing to have our favourite book detectives adapted for film or TV.
While successful films or TV shows can bring fascinating detectives to much-deserved wider attention, and perhaps lead to more people reading good books, they also run the risk of alienating some (or many) fans if they don't potray the lead character in 'the right way' (which of course is incredibly subjective, and will vary from fan to fan, reader to reader).
Film and television history is littered with good and bad adaptations (and of course some people will dislike those generally thought of as good, and some will love those generally thought of as bad). One of the most recent book-to-screen detectives (the latest in a long line, in this particular case) was Robert Downey Jr's much-lauded performance as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. Although there is general consensus that Downey Jr was great in Guy Ritchie's 'new take' on the famous Baker Street-dwelling detective, some crime fiction afficianados weren't impressed.
Like Holmes, Agatha Christie's books and characters have received various on-screen treatments. In fact, despite appearing in dozens and dozens of films, TV shows, and theatre productions, over the past few decades, British actor David Suchet is perhaps almost synonymous, in a visual sense, with Christie's eccentric Belgian investigator, Hercule Poirot. British television does of course have a grand tradition of bringing book-born detectives to life on screen, from John Thaw's longstanding portrayal of Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse, to Robson Green as Val McDermid's Tony Hill in Wire in the Blood, to Warren Clarke and Colin Buchanan teaming up as Reginald Hill's Dalziel and Pascoe.
It is also interesting to see the different perspectives and attitudes many modern-day mystery and crime writers take when it comes to any potential adaptations of the characters they've created. For instance, award-winning LA crime novelist Robert Crais has had standalones made into movies (e.g. Hostage, starring Bruce Willis), but says he will sell the rights to his popular series characters Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. Another famous LA crime writer, Michael Connelly, has had one of his standalones, BLOOD WORK made into a 2002 movie starring (and directed by) Clint Eastwood, but his most famous character, Hieronymous "Harry" Bosch, hasn't yet made it to the big screen (despite several Hollywood studios being interested, and taking initial steps).
Robert B. Parker's famous Boston detective Spenser was adapted for the 1980s TV series Spenser for Hire, while his Jesse Stone books have become a series of quality telemovies starring Tom Selleck in the lead role. Kathy Reich's Tempe Brennan has received a loosely-linked-to-the-books portrayal by Emily Deschanel in the TV series Bones. And Tommy Lee Jones recently stepped into the shows of James Lee Burke's iconic Cajun detective, Dave Robicheaux, in the award-winning but little-seen film In the Electric Mist.
From a New Zealand perspective, in the early 1990s, Dame Ngaio Marsh's books were turned into the BBC TV series, The Inspector Alleyn Mysteries, with Patrick Malahide in the lead role (after Simon Williams played Alleyn in the pilot). Paul Thomas's recurring detective, DS Ihaka, was portrayed by Temuera Morrison in a TV movie adaptation.
Recently, it has been announced that Alix Bosco's heroine Anna Markunas, who featured in Bosco's debut CUT & RUN last year, and is tapped to appear in further books, such SLAUGHTER FALLS later this year, will be played by well-known (in Australasia) TV actress Robyn Malcolm in a 2-part miniseries. There have also been murmurs about some of Paul Cleave's books being turned into movies, although nothing has come to fruition yet.
Personally, I don't mind book detectives being portrayed on the big or small screen - I enjoy TV and film murder mysteries and thrillers, whether they are based on books or not - as long as it is done well. It sucks when interesting characters and stories are poorly transferred to the screen (as can happen with some adaptations), because you feel like the film makers/TV producers have wasted a great opportunity.
What are your thoughts on screen adaptations of book detectives? Who are some of your favourites you would like to see onscreen? Do you have some you never want to see onscreen? Which actors can you envisage as your favourite characters? What crime fiction screen adaptations have you loved/hated? Thoughts and comments most welcome.