The Plot Thickens

So many detectives, so little time. I’ve recently gotten myself a BritBox subscription, because apparently I need more things to watch, and have been both dazzled and mildly horrified by the range of options available in the detective-series genre. And among them are plenty of series based on books: the “Vera” series, based on Ann Cleeves’ atmospheric novels; “Prime Suspect,” based on the series by Lynda La Plante; “DCI Banks,” from Peter Robinson’s novels; “Rebus,” featuring Ian Rankin’s popular detective; “Quirke,” set in 1950s Ireland and based on the series by Benjamin Black (John Banville); “Wallander,” based on the Nordic noir series by Henning Mankell; and more Agatha Christie adaptations than you can shake a (sharpened) stick at.

Where should I begin? Any recommendations? Are TV detective series better if you’ve read the book first, or not? (I say better to read the book, but that’s mostly because I never remember whodunit.) Is it weird when the detective doesn’t match your image from the book? I found “Strike,” based on J.K. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike series, well done, but Tom Burke as the title character just looked too Hollywood-handsome. Though, strangely, I also thought Nathaniel Parker in “The Inspector Lynley Mysteries,” based on Elizabeth George’s series, didn’t look right either (Inspector Lynley is supposed to be blond! Everyone knows this!) but I enjoyed his performance anyway; he found the calm, wry essence of the character I knew so well.

Speaking of TV adaptations, I was excited recently to hear about plans for an Apple TV+ limited-series adaptation of Laura Lippman’s “Lady in the Lake,” to star Natalie Portman and Lupita Nyong’o. I confess I could easily picture this one on the screen when I read it a couple of years ago; it’s a movie-vivid tale of 1960s Baltimore, told through multiple voices, in which a bored homemaker follows her dream of becoming a crime journalist to solve a murder. Lippman’s work is always a dark pleasure — check out her wonderful noir “Sunburn from a few years back, or her latest, “Dream Girl,” a nicely shivery homage to Stephen King’s “Misery” with an atmosphere all its own.  

Also coming soon to the screen is a character of whom I’m very fond: Mickey Haller, the “Lincoln lawyer” of Michael Connelly’s series (the name comes from the Town Car from which Mickey runs his Los Angeles law practice). Mickey, the half-brother of Connelly’s beloved detective Harry Bosch, has appeared in six novels and one previous movie; he’s an ultraslick lawyer with an occasionally inconvenient conscience. Matthew McConaughey played him in the 2011 movie version of the book (check it out; it’s good!), but the upcoming 10-episode series will star Mexican actor Manuel Garcia-Rulfo. Haller’s mother, in the books, is Mexican, and the new series of “The Lincoln Lawyer” will “celebrate the Latinx heritage and roots of this Los Angeles-based story,” wrote Connelly on David E. Kelley, of “Big Little Lies” and countless other TV hits, is a producer. Bring it on!

Enough TV; what are you reading? This month I went off to a Gothic boarding school in Phoebe Wynne’s new novel “Madam”; I was expecting something Donna Tartt-ish and instead found something even darker, in which a young classics teacher gradually learns the sinister truth about the girls’ school where she’s been hired, a cliffside place in Scotland that looks like “an extraordinary gray wedding cake.” Good fun if you like your classics with a twist of creepy. I’m also enjoying S.A. Lelchuk’s “One Got Away” — how could I possibly resist a story of a tough-as-nails female investigator who runs a bookstore on the side? — and Linwood Barclay’s “Find You First,” a wonderfully tense tale of a tech billionaire whose heirs are being mysteriously bumped off. Hope these dog days of summer find you with some good crime fiction in hand.