Reading and Watching


Most everybody who is anybody was at Malice Domestic the last weekend of April. 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.

This post first appeared on the Maine Crime Writers blog on May 2, 2018.

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