Literary Detectives

Earlier this month, CBS reran Jesse Stone: Death in Paradise, one of three made-for-television movies based on the best-selling Jesse Stone mystery novels by Robert B. Parker, the man who also gave us Spenser. Tom Selleck starred as Jesse Stone. I’ve read Death in Paradise and Night Passage (the first book in the Jesse Stone series), plus my wife and I are both tremendous fans of Parker in general and the Spenser novels in particular. The tone and dialogue of the movie is true to form, and Selleck does a good job as Jesse. I liked the movie much more than I thought – and I say that because as much as I like Parker (and for that matter, as much as I enjoy Tom Selleck as an actor), I never pictured Selleck as Jesse Stone. I’m not sure why – and I’m not sure I had any other actor in mind to play him – but for whatever reason, I never pictured Selleck.

That got me thinking about some of the other examples of “literary detectives” – private eyes or police characters from mystery novels that were later adapted for television. Because whether we mean to or not, we tend to look at these shows differently. We don’t look at them as “television shows” because we can’t help but compare them to the novels.

Matter of fact, we did a program on this very subject a few months back (around the time CBS originally aired Death in Paradise) for Share-a-Vision Radio. We looked at examples of literary detectives that were successfully adapted for television, like Spenser: For Hire and Mike Hammer, and a few that weren’t successful, such as the 1975 adaptation of Ellery Queen starring Jim Hutton. We also talked private-eye characters that were strictly “made for television,” but which definitely had literary roots – characters like Jim Rockford and Harry Orwell.

The segment runs about 20 minutes, and obviously there’s only so much ground you can cover in such a short amount of time. If there’s a favorite literary detective of yours that we didn’t get around to mentioning, please let us know. I have a hunch we may end up doing another program on this sometime soon.

Ed Robertson


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