Reading and Watching

As was obvious from yesterday’s post, most everybody who is anybody was at Malice Domestic last weekend. This year I missed the fun.

It would have been great to hang out with my MCW colleagues Lea Wait, Barb Ross, Kathy Lynn Emerson, Maureen Milliken and Bruce Coffin, not to mention the hundreds of other mystery writers who converge on unsuspecting Bethesda, Maryland every spring. They’re my peeps, and I enjoy spending time with them, but the truth is I would have spent the weekend stalking Ann Cleeves and Brenda Blethyn.

If you don’t know, Ann Cleeves is a British writer who has written more than thirty novels—most of which I have read, many more than once—and Brenda Blethyn is an English actress most recently famous for her role as Vera in the BBC television series of the same name, based on Ann Cleeves’ books about brilliant, intrepid Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope.

I am a huge fan of both women. I’ve met Ann twice before, once at Malice and again at Bouchercon last fall, and both times had to work hard not to come across as a total fangirl.

Here I am with Ann Cleeves last fall, trying not to gush.

I admire her intricately-plotted novels, which are peopled by fascinating characters. (Her Shetland series, featuring Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez, is as good as the Vera series, and also has inspired a BBC television series called Shetland, featuring Douglas Henshall.) On the performance side of the slate, the casting of Brenda Blethyn to play the role of Vera was absolutely inspired.

If any readers of this blog haven’t read Ann’s work, or haven’t seen Brenda become her characters, you owe it to yourself to binge-read the Vera books, then binge-watch the Vera series. It’s available on Acorn and BritBox, perhaps can also be found elsewhere on your entertainment dial. When you get done with the Vera series, dig into the Shetland books, then treat yourself to the Shetland TV series. If you’re like me, the books and the dramatic interpretation of them will have you dreaming of making a journey to that remote archipelago on the edge of the North Sea.

Now I have some some questions for you, dear readers.

If an author’s work has been dramatized on TV or in film, do you prefer to read the book first, or watch the show/movie first? Why?

For those of you who write crime fiction, do you read in the genre while you are writing, or no? Why or why not?

If you don’t read crime fiction while writing, do you watch mystery/crime shows on TV?

If so, what are your favorites?

My answers:

I read the book first, without fail.

I always have book going when I’m writing, and 90% of the time it’s crime fiction. I find it inspiring to read others’ work, don’t fear that I’ll unconsciously appropriate their style or voice.

Similarly, I come away both motivated and entertained when I watch well-written crime fiction shows on TV.

In addition to Vera and Shetland, I loved Foyle’s War, became totally absorbed in Broadchurch and some Friday nights want nothing more to kick back with my pal Sheriff Walt Longmire.

I’m always looking for new ideas, so please let me know your thoughts.

Brenda Buchanan’s Joe Gale mysteries feature an old-school reporter with modern media savvy who covers the Maine crime beat. Three Joe Gale books—Quick Pivot, Cover Story and Truth Beat—are available in digital format wherever ebooks are sold. Brenda can be found on the web at, on Facebook at and on Twitter at @buchananbrenda

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16 Responses to Reading and Watching

  1. Lea Wait says:

    Make sure to check out the Miss Fisher mysteries … set in the twenties in Australia they are absolutely smashing!

  2. Gram says:

    I always read first! but sometimes do not watch. I usually watch “true ” crime shows i.e. Forensic Files, The First 48., and Homicide Hunter – Lt. Joe Kenda!!

  3. seabluelee says:

    I generally prefer to read the book(s) first, for the depth and richness of detail that a film doesn’t have time to include. Then when I watch the film version, I enjoy the visuals while my mind can fill all those missing details. But sometimes I don’t know there’s a book until after I’ve seen the series. I’ve watched Broadchurch, Shetland, Longmire, and Foyle’s War and loved them all…but haven’t read any of them.

    • That is exactly the benefit of reading the book first – so when you’re watching the film or show, your mind can fill in the missing details. The Shetland books are great, and the Veras are, too. I predict you will become addicted to Ann Cleeves’ work. The Longmire books are written by Craig Johnson, who was Guest of Honor at New England Crime Bake a few years ago, and he was a hoot!

  4. Marla says:

    Brenda – our TV watching is identical! Now I must read your books and I bet I will love them.
    90% of the time, I watch show/movie first. Then find out there was a book. Problem is, the books are always different than the tv shows.
    I’m not a writer, so those 2 questions don’t apply.
    Besides the shows we have in common, I also watch Prime Suspect; Tennison, Midsomer Murders, the original Miss Marple with Joan Hickson, who was Christie’s choice to play her, and Collateral. Since I live so close to Canada, we get 2 Canadian stations and the show Shoot the Messenger was a good one, as is Crazed.

    • Brenda Buchanan says:

      How great we have the same taste, Marla. I love Prime Suspect, have not gotten to Tennison yet (Jane as a young woman is a great concept though) and keep meaning to check out Midsomer Murders. Thank you for recommending that and the others, too. Shoot the Messenger – what a great title!

      And I do hope you will read my Joe Gale books and let me know what you think.

  5. Barbara Ross says:

    Bill and I love Vera and Shetland, too. Let me recommend the Bosch series on Amazon. It is one of the few series that has gotten better with every season, IMO. In the pilot Titus Welliver fumbles a little with the rhythm of Michael Connelly’s dialog, and I thought, “This will never work.” Now I can’t imagine anyone else in the role.

    • Brenda Buchanan says:

      Bosch! We don’t get Amazon, but perhaps it is on Netflix? I will look. That would be right up my alley.

  6. L.C. Rooney says:

    I am with you on all counts, Brenda. Always read the book(s) first. My nightstand TBR pile is always, well, a pile. (Although, unlike others I know, I simply cannot read more than one book at a time.) And, yes, it’s almost always crime fiction. There’s nothing better than reading a true master of the genre when you’re feeling stuck in your own story, is there?

    • With you all the way on that, my friend. What are your favorite shows these days?

      • L.C. Rooney says:

        I guess because of all the crime fiction I read (and, of course, write!), I’ve been craving some variety in my television viewing. Current faves are BULL and THE RESIDENT, followed by LUCIFER, CHICAGO FIRE, and THE BLACKLIST (still crazy about James Spader after all these years!). I was very sorry to see GOOD BEHAVIOR (Michelle Dockery of Downton Abbey fame and the uber sexy Juan Diego Botto, two bad–VERY bad– characters you just couldn’t help but root for) was not renewed for a third season, and they left us on a major cliffhanger. Grrr!!! (I was similarly upset with PBS last year when they pulled another of my favorites, MERCY STREET!)

  7. Debbie Young says:

    Brenda, have you read the Maise Dobbs and Maggie Hope series? Both are strong female characters ahead of their time. My friends and I thoroughly enjoyed Joe Gale! Hope you have some more delightful characters up your sleeve!

  8. Thanks, Debbie! How am I not surprised you also are a fan of Jacqueline Winspear and Susan Elia MacNeal? Both are such great writers! Hope you are well!

  9. Jane Sloven says:

    Hi Brenda,
    I almost always read the books first and I am going to mention some of my favorites. Kerry Greenwood’s Miss Phyrne Fisher is a fabulous protagonist. The books are wonderful, and I’d read them all twice before the Australian series was made available on PBS, and then also made available on Acorn TV—or perhaps Acorn had it first—who knows?

    One of my favorite authors (deceased) is Dorothy Gilman. Her Emily Pollifax series is still one of my go-to resources every flu season when I am down and out. No better company than Emily Pollifax, a 65+-year-old widow (in the first books of the series) whose sense of futility in her life leads her to visit the CIA in the hopes of becoming a spy. Rosalind Russell played Emily in the first movie, and she did not comport with the character at all. Angela Lansbury was a much better fit in a second film. I’d love to see someone pick up the rights to that series and produce films starring Emily.

    M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin is a laugh-out-loud character, and the written series is light and fun. The televised episodes on Acorn TV have glammed Agatha up and thus taken away some of her charms, but they are still enjoyable.

    I have not read Maureen Jennings books in the Murdoch mysteries, but I am an avid fan of the episodes on Acorn TV.

    Suzanne Arruda’s Jade del Cameron series offers a terrific protagonist who is similar in some ways to Phyrne Fisher. Jade has wonderful adventures and is a strong, independent woman, but to my knowledge, none of her books have been turned into films.

    Finally, I have read all of Louise Penny’s books in the Gamache series, to which you introduced me years ago, and I love the books. I recently watched Still Life on Acorn TV. While it was interesting to see the film adaptation, I couldn’t relate to it — Nathaniel Parker seemed too young and just not quite right for the character of Gamache.

    Though the television series (now canceled) Mysteries of Laura, is not adapted from a book, (available on Netflix) it is worth watching. It’s funny and compelling. Obviously, I’m drawn to female protagonists in mysteries, though I love Joe Gale!

    Finally, I read everything regardless of the genre, when I am writing. I worked on Termination of Benefits for so many years before it was ready to go to print that I would have been bereft if I had stopped reading mysteries.

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