The Book Was Better?

(Spoiler alert: Not always.)

The Book Was Better?

It used to be that I would watch a movie or TV show only after I’d read the book. No longer. Now the reverse is often true.

I’m probably watching too much TV in my dotage.

In the old days, I would devour a novel like Lonesome Dove and speculate on how Hollywood would adapt it. As it turned out, the producers, directors, and actors did a marvelous job with Larry McMurtry’s masterpiece. The TV miniseries almost singlehandedly revived the Western drama. Tommy Lee Jones (Woodrow) and Robert Duval (Gus), two retired and aging Texas Rangers who run an epic cattle drive, knocked it out of the park. The entire cast was terrific, and the production won more awards than there are tumbleweeds in Texas.

(Years later, I met Peter Bogdanovich at some function, and he told me he thought Henry Fonda and John Wayne would’ve been better in the roles. Apparently, he’d wanted to direct the famous pair in a movie version of the book, but it never worked out. They would’ve been great, but I cannot imagine them being better than Jones and Duval.)

A popular TV series, “Spenser for Hire,” starring Robert Urich, who was also in the adaptation of Lonesome Dove, comes to mind. As I’ve said previously, probably ad nauseam, I’m a big fan of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels. As did McMurtry, Parker reinvented a genre: the private-eye story. The early Spensers are classics. Like Woodrow and Gus, they weaken with age, but I’ve read them all. Some many times. Most before the TV show came out.

Parker also wrote Westerns and penned several novels about a female P.I. named Sunny Randall and a small-town, frequently drunk police chief named Jesse Stone. I was never really crazy about them, though, and only read a couple.

I may have to reconsider. At least in the case of Stone.

The flawed Stone is a homicide cop fired from the LAPD for drunkenness. He lands in Paradise, a seaside Massachusetts town, where he’s hired by a bunch of city councilmen who assume they can control him. Stone knows that Paradise is his last stop and is suspicious. As he says: “I wouldn’t have hired me.”

Stone is one step away from professional and personal oblivion. He’s still in love with his ex-wife. (His divorce being the reason he drinks.) Tom Selleck plays Stone in the made-for-TV movies, and has since 2005. At 6-feet-4, he brings both gravitas and that famous mustache to the role.

Paradise itself is picturesque, although considering the body count, you might not want to live there. There are also some beautiful Irish setters that Jesse adopts, usually after finding them next to the bodies of their murdered masters. How can you not like movies that feature such loyal pooches?

With help from folks on both sides of the law (including such terrific character actors as William Sadler, Kohl Sudduth, Olivia Davis, Steven McHattie, and William Devane, to name a few), Stone does great detective work. I’ve watched all nine Stone films on Amazon Prime. They’re so compelling that I even paid for the ones that aren’t free. (Why some are included with my subscription and others are not is a mystery that only Spenser or Stone could solve; I’m not even sure how a thermos works.)

All I know is that these movies have made me want to buy the books. (I also want to pour a scotch every time Stone does.) Unfortunately, the last one was made in 2015. Selleck is now the star of “Blue Bloods,” and I suspect there will be no more Jesse Stone movies in his — or my — future.

That makes me very sad.

Lawrence De Maria has written more than 30 thrillers on Amazon. He cannot tell a lie: He had a few scotches while watching the Stone TV movies.

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