5 Cracking Crime Adaptations

From a dark-souled Swedish sleuth to an intrepid OAP, these telly detectives all started out in the pages of a book…

Dalziel and Pascoe


Dalziel and Pascoe solved their first case back in 1970, in a novel called A Clubbable Woman. It was written by Reginald Hill, a teacher who had been inspired by a childhood love of Golden Age crime tales from the likes of Agatha Christie. Decades later, after many novels, that his chalk-and-cheese coppers made their screen debut, but it wasn't the best of starts.

The first adaptation was a failed one-off which starred comedy duo Hale and Pace. It was only later, when Warren Clarke and Colin Buchanan came along, that the detectives became household names. Fans of the show may be startled to learn that Warren Clarke's Dalziel is significantly toned DOWN from the book version, who is described as being enormously obese and almost animal-like in his gross vulgarity. (One of Reginald Hill's original stories is also set in the future, and sees the duo investigating a crime on the Moon - which would certainly have been interesting to see brought to life.)


You might think of Nordic Noir as a very modern phenomenon, but its origins go back decades, well before most of us were addicted to sagas of secrets and lies in Scandinavia. One of the first Nordic Noir detectives was Kurt Wallander, the junk food-eating, crisis-ridden copper who stalks the coastal town of Ystad in Sweden. Author Henning Mankell published the first Wallander tale back in the 1990s, helping to popularize this moody European sub-genre of crime fiction.

There are two different Swedish-language adaptations of the Wallander novels, but - perhaps unexpectedly - it's the English version with Kenneth Branagh that's the darkest and most uncompromising. The Branagh Wallander really focuses on Wallander's spiritual anguish, with the great actor looking magnificently haggard and worn-down in the role. There is one major difference from the novels, though. Wallander's love of opera doesn't feature in the Branagh series, because the producers felt British viewers would be too reminded of Inspector Morse.


The TV adaptation of George Gently is a period drama, and the fascination of watching it goes beyond the crimes themselves. We're also hooked on its depiction of the 1960s, the evolution of British society, and how these changes are reflected in the relationship between mature copper Gently and his young, mop-haired sidekick Bacchus. Yet the novels themselves weren't written with this nostalgic intention in mind, because they were already being published in the 60s themselves.

In fact, the very first Gently tale came out in 1955, with author Alan Hunter publishing dozens more in the decades to come. Perhaps the biggest difference between the books and the TV series lies in the location. While book-Gently solves cases in Norfolk, TV-Gently is up in the North East. Either way, the character is one of the most noble and reassuring of all British sleuths.

Picture shows Nathaniel Parker as Inspector Thomas Lynley and Sharon Small as Sargeant Barbara Havers, in The Inspector Lynley Mysteries.

Picture shows Nathaniel Parker as Inspector Thomas Lynley and Sharon Small as Sargeant Barbara Havers, in The Inspector Lynley Mysteries.


With their heavy emphasis on country houses, council estates, class snobbery and the intricacies of Scotland Yard, the on-screen adventures of Inspector Lynley may seem as British as the Union Jack. Yet the source material for this great detective series was the brainchild of an American crime novelist, Elizabeth George. While she hails from Ohio, George became a lover of all things British back in the 60s, and this passion fed into her novels about upper-crust copper Thomas Lynley, and his gritty working class partner Barbara Havers.

Anyone coming to the novels after watching the show may be surprised to discover that the original Lynley looks nothing at all like Nathaniel Parker. He's a blonde, for one thing, and more "classically" pretty, like some aristocratic Adonis. Havers, meanwhile, is described as podgy and unprepossessing - rather different from her on-screen incarnation.


Unlike the other sleuths on this list, Hetty Wainthropp is almost exclusively known as a TV character rather than a literary hero. However, the pensioner detective did indeed begin life on the printed page, in a novel called Missing Persons. Its author, David Cook, had quite the colourful career too. Cook was the original, now-forgotten presenter of children's TV series Rainbow, before the iconic Geoffrey took over. After cavorting with Zippy and Bungle, Cook then wrote an acclaimed novel called Walter, about a man with learning difficulties, which became a film starring a young Ian McKellen.

And then, years later, Cook came up with Missing Persons, which introduced the world to Hetty Wainthropp. This was adapted in 1990 for a one-off episode starring a strikingly blonde Patricia Routledge, before the full series came into being six years later, establishing Wainthropp as the Miss Marple of the North West.