Women Sleuths on the Page and Screen

Series detectives from Miss Marple to Cassie Dewell star in both.

Women Sleuths on the Page and Screen

Since Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series, women detectives have held their own against their ubiquitous male counterparts. These women are the equal of any man in the hardboiled genre.

This has not been lost on TV producers, who are eager to find good content in the streaming era. Last year, I looked at some of the detectives and other action heroes who’ve jumped from book series to streaming series. Women characters have also found their way onto what we used to call the small screen.

“Big Sky,” an ABC series that streams on Hulu, features Kathryn Winnick and Kylie Bunbury as the Montana detective duo inspired by C.J. Box’s Highway series. Box, whose best-known character is Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett, has produced eight books in this series. While Joe Pickett has finally gotten his own series in a disappointing venture of miscasting, Jenny Hoyt and Cassie Dewell have prospered through 47 episodes in Montana.

The “Big Sky” TV show takes considerable liberties with the books, which Box started out as the Cody Hoyt series in Back of Beyond. But Cody quickly gave way to Cassie in The Highway, which opens the TV series, casting the inimitable John Carroll Lynch as the sinister Trooper Rick Legarski. (Jenny doesn’t figure much in the books, but it’s good to see Winnick get out of the “Vikings” in the TV series.)

The book series parts ways with Montana to send Cassie to North Dakota for a while in Badlands but gets her back in Paradise Valley. Some reviewers have found the TV version to be superior to the books, and David E. Kelley, a veteran producer behind “Big Little Lies” and numerous other hits, to be a safer pair of hands than novelist Box.

Vivica Sten’s Sandhamn Murder series, on the other hand, is reflected more closely in the Swedish TV series that streams on MHz Choice and stars Alexandra Rapaport as the intrepid lawyer and amateur sleuth Nora Linde. The setting is the spectacular archipelago east of Stockholm, and both the books and the TV show have that sober feel we associate with Nordic crime series. (Author Sten is also a lawyer and summers on Sandhamn.)

TV producers again take liberties with the underlying books, but they keep the shows entertaining. As with “Big Sky,” the actors in the TV version are probably better looking than what a reader might picture from the books’ descriptions.

The jury is still out on the TV version of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series. The novels now stretch to six after debuting with the acclaimed In the Woods, and French is a better writer than Box and Sten. The TV show, which streams on Prime Video and premiered with eight episodes in 2019, has yet to be renewed for a second season.

French’s plots are a little darker, and the Cassie Maddox detective character in In the Woods and The Likeness fades away after the first two novels. French has left the murder squad series behind for the time being to write two standalone novels, The Witch Elm and The Searcher, which are also set in Ireland but move out of the detective genre.

The Miss Marple shows with Joan Hickson, by the way, stream on BritBox. A later series, “Agatha Christie’s Marple,” starring Geraldine McEwan in the title role, also streams there. Do yourself a favor and check them out.

Darrell Delamaide is author of the novels The Grand Mirage and Gold.

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