Some of the mystery canon’s most engaging heroes have stepped off the page and into series for television and streaming services, including Inspector Morse (old and young), Harry Bosch, Jack Irish and Quirke.
I recently posted some consoling news for viewers of the PBS series “Grantchester” — if you’re sad that the show is over, you can always read the books!
“Grantchester,” about an Anglican priest who solves crimes with the aid of his best police-detective pal, is based on a line of books — the Sidney Chambers series by James Runcie. This was news to a lot of well-read people. They didn’t even know that PBS’“Father Brown” was based on the books by G.K. Chesterton.
I was shocked. Shocked!
Where to watch TV detectives
Here’s where you can catch these literary-turned-television detectives. Check schedules for specific times and updates.
“Jack Irish”: streams on Acorn TV.
“Vera”: Saturdays on KTCS 9.
“Shetland”: DVDs available at local libraries, or can order online.
“Endeavour”: Sundays through July 10 on KCTS 9.
“Inspector Lewis”: Sundays beginning July 17 on KCTS 9; Season 8 begins Aug. 7.
“DCI Banks”:Thursdays through June 30 on KCTS 9.
“Bosch”: streams on Amazon.
“The Night Manager”: streams on Amazon.
“Quirke”: Saturdays through July 2 on KCTS 9.
So, in the service of a lot of fine detective novelists, here’s a rundown of recent TV series that draw on their books. If you are a mystery lover, clip and save — you will never lack for top-drawer entertainment.
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The Jack Irish series: Currently streaming on Acorn TV, this mordantly funny and suspenseful six-episode series is based on the detective novels by Australian writer Peter Temple.
Jack Irish, played by Australian actor Guy Pearce (“Memento”), is a laid-back (until he gets mad), good-looking, lady-killing detective/lawyer with a lot of irresistibly weird friends. There’s a Greek chorus of old duffers who keep the seats warm at Jack’s neighborhood bar in Melbourne. There’s a racehorse owner and his mysterious assistant, a quietly threatening Aboriginal chap who reliably shows up to extricate Jack from some incredibly tough spots.
The latest series concerns a fundamentalist Christian cult (they have those in Australia too!) that may be linked to mass murder in the Phillipines, conveniently blamed on terrorism. For the books, start with the first in the series, “Bad Debts.”
“Vera” and “Shetland”: Many viewers are familiar with the wonderful TV version of Vera Stanhope, played by the great English actress Brenda Blethyn. Series 5 is currently airing Saturdays on KCTS. Season 6 premieres July 16.
“Vera” is set in Northern England. Cleeves has also written a series set in the Shetland Islands, featuring a detective named Jimmy Perez — the first book is called “Raven Black.”
The Perez novels are the basis for a British TV series called “Shetland.” I couldn’t find a place to stream this, but the DVDs are available at your friendly neighborhood online retailer, the Seattle Public Library or the King County Library System.
“Endeavour”: This series has a long literary bloodline. It’s based on the Inspector Morse novels by Colin Dexter, an Oxford classics scholar who, after moving into a career in educational testing, decided to entertain himself on a rainy day by writing novels.
Too bad for Oxford classics students, too good for the rest of us. Dexter’s Morse is an Oxford-educated detective with a love of beer and opera and a massive disdain for snooty and murderous professors.
Dexter’s novels turned into 33 Inspector Morse episodes, starring the great British actor John Thaw as Morse. Kevin Whately played his blue-collar Yorkshire sidekick Robbie Lewis. Then Morse died, both in the books and in the series, and an Inspector Lewis series was launched, also starring Whately and Laurence Fox as Lewis’ young, Cambridge-educated (here’s mud in your eye!) counterpart. That series is still going on KCTS 9 and through streaming services, and available through checkout at the libraries.
Still with me? Good. The series “Endeavour” goes back to Morse’s youth, as the incomparably dishy Shaun Evans plays the young Morse. All these shows feature complicated plots, atmospheric Oxford settings, terrible crimes and a gorgeous soundtrack by the composer Barrington Pheloung, who has hung on through all three series. Fun inside fact: the young Morse’s boss Fred Thursday is named after the book “The Man Who Was Thursday” by G.K. Chesterton, the creator of “Father Brown.”
“DCI Banks.” This Yorkshire-set cop series, airing on KCTS Channel 9, is based on the Inspector Alan Banks mystery series by Canadian crime fiction writer Peter Robinson, and it features fine plotting, dark humor and an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music. First book in the series is “Gallows View.”
“Bosch”: It would be un-American of me not to mention this Amazon series, set in Los Angeles and based on the Harry Bosch novels by Michael Connelly. To my surprise, actor Titus Welliver matched my inner visions of the taciturn, lone-wolf Bosch, and the shows are well-plotted and suspenseful.
“The Night Manager ”: Based on John le Carré’s novel of the same name, this gripping six-part series tells the story of Jonathan Pine, a British military veteran drawn into a plot to bring down an evil arms merchant. Pine is well-played by Tom Hiddleston, and as Roper, the arms dealer, Hugh Laurie reasserts his potential for releasing the devil within (remember House in his darkest moments). Olivia Colman (“Broadchurch”), as an eight-months-pregnant British intelligence operative, anchors the plot to bring Roper down. Originally broadcast on AMC, it’s now available for streaming on Amazon.
“Quirke”: This very noirish series, starring Irish actor Gabriel Byrne, is based on the Quirke novels by Irish author John Banville, writing as Benjamin Black. Quirke is a consulting pathologist living in 1950s Dublin with a drinking problem and an irresistible instinct for conspiracy. You can catch the next Quirke episode July 2 on KCTS 9.