WHY IS IT A TELEVISION SERIES?

I’m not rigid about the difference between books and movies.  I understand that they are two different media, and you can’t expect a movie to do the same things that a book can do, even if the film is “based on” the book. Sometimes the differences between the two are almost comical (the Lawrence Olivier/Greer Garson version of Pride and Prejudice, for instance, completely changes some of the characters), sometimes they’re so vast you can hardly trace the outlines of the original in the movie (and yes, I know the movie, Blade Runner, is a classic, but it is VERY different from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and while I love the movie Slumdog Millionaire, I don’t think I would have loved it as much if I’d read the source, Q & A, first).  What’s interesting to me now is the difference between books and television series based on the books, which actually turns out to be the opposite of the difference between books and movies.

With a movie, the book is almost always better because the author can go into depth in the characters and their thinking in a way that’s almost impossible to depict on film.  An author can have a character musing over things, considering alternatives and possibilities, for pages and it’s interesting.  In a movie, showing someone thinking is the same as showing the person doing nothing, and nobody likes that.  Books can go into greater depth with subplots and side characters, where movies have to cut all that “extraneous” stuff out to get on with the story.

A television series, though, has enough time and space to cover all the details of the book.  Subplots and side characters can be developed and shown because you don’t have a two hour limit.  The problem with a television series based on a book is that the series needs more, and so the way a series diverges from a book is in complicating things and adding things to the book, whether those things might be strictly necessary or not.

For instance, the first season of Dexter followed the first book, Darkly Dreaming Dexter, fairly closely, with one or two dramatic differences (people live at the end of the book who are killed in the series, and vice versa).  Characters who were mentioned in the book got their own subplots, but on the whole, if you read the book, you had a good sense of where the series was going.  After that first season, though, the television series took a completely different path, complicating Dexter’s backstory, adding more characters and more relationships, until finally the only things the series and the books had in common were some characters and a general concept of who and what Dexter was.

The Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett book, Good Omens, was delightful, a romp through the apocalypse and the efforts to avoid the apocalypse.  The characters of Crowley and Aziraphale, the devil and angel (respectively) were just two among a whole assortment of strange and entertaining characters.  The television series, while mostly following the arc of the book, changed its focus to Crowley and Aziraphale, developing their relationship over the course of human history and giving them much more of a part to play in avoiding the end of the world.  They are charming and funny characters, and I’m not saying that the series was bloated or in any way bad.  I enjoyed it.  I enjoyed the book more, though, and I think that’s because (a) I read the book first (always a factor, to be honest), and (b) the book was more balanced among the characters and the plotlines. I understand there’s going to be a second season of Good Omens, and I have to wonder what it could possibly be about, since the whole story of the book was covered in the first series.

More recently, I’ve been watching the series of The Old Man, and, while waiting for the next episodes, I read the book, by Thomas Perry. The television series is baroque, especially for a thriller: there is a backstory involving the Russian war in Afghanistan, there are multiple characters with multiple identities, and (as there should be in a show about spies) questions of loyalty and betrayal.  The book is lean and mean; the characters are fewer and less complicated, the plot is clear and moves like a racehorse.  It would make a terrific movie in the same way The Maltese Falcon made a terrific movie.  What I can’t understand is why someone chose to take this book, with this plot and this speed, and wrap it around with multiple lines of secondary characters, political intrigue, mistaken identities and the like to drag it out for hours and hours of a television series.

I’m sure there are books that would be perfect for a television series (Bleak House, for instance) where the writers wouldn’t need to add extra characters and extra plots and complications to stretch the material out.  But on the whole, I believe television series and books are two entirely different kinds of creatures, and they should stay that way.

HOT THRILLERS FOR A COLD DECEMBER

When the weather turns bad and you don’t really want to face the snow and ice outside, what’s better than curling up with a good thriller that will take your mind off the bad weather and everything else?  Luckily for you, we have a group of new thrillers here at The Field Library that will carry you away and keep you feverishly turning those pages. Some are by authors you’ll recognize from earlier thrillers, one you might recognize from another genre, but all of them are experts at creating suspense and keeping readers on the edge of their seats.

Does anyone need to be told who Robin Cook is?  He made his name with his first medical thriller, Coma, back in 1977, and has been writing thrillers (usually bestsellers) ever since.  One of Cook’s strengths is his ability to keep up with new developments in medicine and science and consider how they affect people’s lives.  In his newest book, Genesis, the new development is DNA ancestry testing, which becomes a key point in a murder investigation. A twenty eight year old pregnant woman dies, apparently of a routine drug overdose.  There are, however, some oddities that make the medical examiner and her pathology resident wonder if this is as routine as it seems. The dead woman’s family insists she never used drugs, and the medical establishment is going out of its way to keep the whole matter secret.  And why doesn’t anyone seem interested in the question of who the father of the fetus was and whether he might have known something about the woman’s death? Then one of the dead woman’s friends is murdered, and the medical examiner uses DNA testing to try to find out who the fetus’ male relatives might be.  However, there could well be people who would be willing to kill to keep this information secret, and the more the medical examiner and her resident find out, the more danger they could be putting themselves in.

While Val McDermid might not be as much of a household name as Robin Cook, among mystery fans she’s a rock star. Her newest book, How the Dead Speak, starts in a place where many other series would end, with one of the series characters in jail and the other more or less retired from the police force.  Tony Hill is finding outlets for his talents in jail, and Carol Jordan is working with an informal group investigating past miscarriages of justice. And then the process of construction on a former orphanage stops when a number of small skeletons are unearthed, probably dating from the period when the orphanage was in full swing.  Bad enough, but still more disturbingly, more skeletons turn up in another part of the property, dating from much more recently, one of them identified as the body of someone who’s alive and well and in prison, and involved in Carol’s innocence project. The two characters are brought together as the plot twists and turns in the hands of a master.

For those like me who have ambivalent feelings about Dexter, both the books and the television series, the sight of Jeff Lindsay’s name as author on a new book brings anticipation, tinged with a touch of dread.  I adored Linsday’s first two Dexter novels, and some of the middle ones were well-written, but I felt deeply disappointed by the way he ended the series (to the point where I didn’t even read the last book, Dexter Is Dead, and you know, if you’ve read me at all, that I like to finish series).  He has a lot of talent, and Dexter always had a vivid, entertaining voice (not to mention being a character you felt bad about liking and rooting for, based on the things you saw him doing), so I’m probably more intrigued than worried about his newest book, Just Watch Me. Riley Wolfe, the protagonist of Just Watch Me, isn’t a serial killer, but he is a bad person, a thief, a master of disguise and someone who will resort to violence if he thinks it necessary. He ameliorates some of this antisocial aspects by focusing all his efforts on the top .1%, stealing from the ultra-rich whom he despises.  In this book, he chooses to steal the Crown Jewels of Iran, which are not only (obviously) incredibly valuable, but legendarily impossible to steal, with up to the minute (and beyond) electronic security. He likes a challenge, but in addition to the known difficulties of dealing with the security system, he has a brilliant police officer (a modern day Inspector Javert) who’s chasing him down and is way too close behind him all the way.  If you’re into heist stories, this should be all but irresistible.

Nalini Singh may not be a name we associate with mysteries or thrillers; she’s much better known for her paranormal romance series and her other romances, but all the skills she’s honed in decades of romantic suspense come to the fore in her new thriller, A Madness of Sunshine.  Set in New Zealand (Singh’s home but pretty exotic in the world of mysteries and thrillers), in a particular town where people were, or thought they were, more than just neighbors and schoolmates, until an incident involving several vanished bodies shattered the community. In the aftermath, the people of the town resolved never to talk about what happened, and to pretend, as much as possible, that nothing happened.  You don’t have to be a reader of thrillers to know that pretending something never happened isn’t going to work; thriller readers are rubbing their hands together at the notion, sure that sooner or later that “nothing” is going to resurface with devastating results. Eight years after that first incident, a young woman vanishes in Golden Cove, and the past begins to collide with the present, and ignored dangers return to wreak havoc.  

 

 

 

SPRING INTO NEW THRILLERS

How about some thrilling reading to get you through the transitional days when Mother Nature can’t seem to make up her mind about whether it’s actually spring or still winter?  You can choose between domestic thrillers, classic dangers-from-the-past-coming-back-to-haunt-you thrillers and up to the minute this-could-bring-about-the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it thrillers. We’ve got them all in the new fiction section of The Field Library.

Perhaps you’re turning your nose up at the idea of a “domestic” thriller, but if you’re talking about My Lovely Wife, by Samantha Downing, you’re making a mistake.  The tag line for this book is “Dexter meets Mr. and Mrs. Smith”, and admit it, you’re already intrigued (especially if you, like me, were a fan of Dexter in his early days).  Our protagonists are your ordinary seeming married couple. They met, fell in love, got married, had kids, bought a house together. They’ve been married 15 years, and maybe their relationship is getting a little stale.  Maybe they’re snapping at each other a little more than they used to do. Maybe they need something to spice their marriage up, something like, oh, I don’t know, perhaps figuring out creative ways to get away with murder?  If you have a twisted mind, this is probably the first book you should pick up and read.

Iris Johansen has been writing thrillers centering around Eve Duncan, the forensic sculptor, for more than twenty years now (the first one, The Face of Deception, was published in 1998), and yet there are still new facets to the character and her world to explore.  In the latest in the series, Dark Tribute, the focus is on Cara Delaney, Eve’s ward. Cara is finally getting settled in her life as a professional musician when she is kidnapped by someone who’s got a grudge against her grandfather and is willing to use her to get back at her family.  The past she thought was safely behind her is now a source of extreme danger to Cara and everyone she cares about, and the question is, can Cara save her own life and the lives of those close to her?

Catherine Coulter heightens the stakes in her newest book, The Last Second. What her main characters, Special Agents Nicholas Drummond and Michaela Caine, have to do is prevent someone from loosing an electromagnetic pulse over the earth’s atmosphere that would kill all earth’s electronic communications.  No biggie, right? France has launched its own communications satellite, and its second-in-command is a woman who believes her life was saved by aliens on a prior spacewalk, and who believes the aliens will allow her to join them and become immortal if she changes earth’s destiny by deploying the EMP.  With the clock running out and the destruction of what makes our modern world work imminent, this is one of those books you keep reading long past your bedtime, to find out what’s going to happen.

And isn’t that what thrillers are all about?