There’s nothing mysterious about the appeal of a whodunit: Few genres are so interactive, and the premise of crime-solving allows for constant novelty. Detective series are beloved because we can witness the arcs of characters ‘developments episodically, growing attached to the protagonists over a series of new and exciting cases. It’s easy to see why television execs are becoming increasingly reliant on detective books as source material for their programming.
While detective series might conjure trenchcoat silhouettes behind frosted glass doors, our favorite book-to-TV series are less formulaic than the archetypal mysteries of old, spanning the globe and breaking the boundaries of realism. The closest to a conventional hardboiled classic is perhaps Ian Rankin’s Tooth and Nail, from the wildly popular Inspector Rebus series, adapted for UK television as Rebus. Sweden’s Detective Kurt Wallander falls into second place in Firewall — recently seen on Masterpiece Mystery! — approaching detective work with an existentialist dread that eclipses the pessimism of the grittiest noir. Part of the series that inspired CBS’s show Bones, Kathy Reichs ‘Bare Bones belongs in the more modern category of forensic procedurals, with the unique slant of forensic anthropology. HBO’s series based on the book of the same title features the only female detective in all of Botswana: The No. 1 Ladies ‘Detective Agency‘s Precious Ramotswe is an unswerving optimist who solves crimes through intuition and friendliness.
Then there are those series so unique as to eschew categorization. The literary source for Showtime’s quirky series Dexter presents an “ethical” serial killer and blood-spatter analyst trying to track down another serial killer whose murders he has prophetic dreams about. Meanwhile, HBO bases the hit True Blood on spunky telepath Sookie Stackhouse, who uses her powers to solve a string of vampire-related murders in Dead Until Dark.
Though incredibly different from one another, each of these books shares the makings of a satisfying mystery novel or show. Flawed as they often are, the detectives of fiction are always heroes; unhappy as they may be, happy endings are guaranteed.