Top 10 TV Crime Drama Adaptations

A Stab In The Dark's roving reporter Paul Hirons runs down his favourite book to television adaptations.

Detective Wallander played by Kenneth Branagh

Detective Wallander played by Kenneth Branagh

29 November 2016

As Mark, Erin and Robert have been talking about adaptations in this episode of A Stab In The Dark, I thought I'd go through my own favourites. There were a lot to choose from, but I think this is a pretty good top 10. What do you think?

1. Inspector Morse

Colin Dexter's 13 novels (as well as his short stories) spawned perhaps the best-loved franchise in modern British crime drama, which not only delighted millions but also led to two spin-off series, Lewis and Endeavour. Dexter's on-page Morse differed to the version John Thaw made his own on our screens - his detective was surlier and less likeable. Thaw, meanwhile, provided balance and smoothed down some of the rough edges. With the bucolic ambience of Oxford expertly captured and harnessed, Morse was the perfect example of a TV adaptation working in close harmony with its inspiration but tweaking things to make it work for a new medium.

2. Miss Marple

The queen of all crime fiction's fictional amateur detective and her legacy can still be felt today. Jane Marple has been played by no less than 10 actresses on film and TV (most recently by Julia McKenzie), but it's Christie's template of 'cosy crime' and expert whodunit constructions that have made Marple such an enduring and much-copied character.

3. Prime Suspect

One of the best police shows of all time, this adaptation of Lynda La Plante's best-sellers introduced us to one of the most iconic crime drama characters of all time - the flawed but brilliant Jane Tennison (played by award-winning skill by Helen Mirren). Tackling dark subjects as well as sexism in the work place, Prime Suspect sizzled for 15 episodes.

4. Rebus

Ian Rankin's titular Edinburgh-based detective has been played by both John Hannah and Ken Stott onscreen, but it's Stott that really steals the show as the gruff, surly and world-weary copper who navigates his way around the badlands of Scotland's capital (as well as the whiskey selection of The Oxford Bar) with a dry wit and a heavy heart.

5. Wallander

Arguably the franchise that started the whole Scandi noir boom, two actors have inhabited the role of the gloomy Ystad-based, Swedish detective - Krister Henriksson and, in the British version, Kenneth Branagh. Based on the late Henning Mankell's best-sellers the 32 Swedish episodes blazed a trail for the likes of The Killing and The Bridge to follow.

6. Dexter

Jeff Lindsay introduced us to Dexter Morgan, a blood-spatter expert for the Miami PD who, at night, roamed the streets to exercise his own vicious and methodical vigilantism on those who escaped justice. Michael C Hall was perfectly cast as the psycho serial killer with a social conscience, and this adaptation provided us with one of the most addictive, seductive and unusual crime dramas of the Noughties.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as John Watson.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as John Watson.

7. Sherlock

Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss's modern reshaping of the Arthur Conan Doyle icon is both clever (sometimes perhaps too clever) and sophisticated, while in Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch the 21st century has a perfectly-cast pairing that's up there with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. This adaptation is now a global phenomenon.

8. Thorne

When Mark Billingham's (Mark who?) Sleepyhead and Scaredy Cat were adapted for TV, David Morrissey stepped into the breach and was the perfect Thorne. And what dark cases he had to investigate - serial killers with sick and twisted ways of killing his prey and teams of serial killers working in tandem to carry out their murderous deeds. The cast was magnificent (alongside Morrissey were Eddie Marsan, Aidan Gillen and Natascha McElhone) and it's a shame we only got six episodes of it - it could have gone on to become one the modern greats.

9. Wire In The Blood

Based on the books by Val McDermid, Robson Green's clinical psychologist Tony Hill and DCI Carol Jordan (Hermione Norris) made for an unusual but intriguing investigative pairing - Hill with his eccentric, empathic ways; Jordan with her by-the-book hardness. It ran for six series and was hugely popular.

10. Rizzoli & Isles

Tess Gerritsen's Rizzoli & Isles provided us with a smart pair of investigating women at the opposite ends of the social and class scale, but teamed together they provided dollops of sass. In fact, Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles were a throwback to other brilliant female detective pairings, like Cagney and Lacey.

Honourable mentions

Inspector George Gently (Alan Hunter), Field Of Blood (Denise Mina), Messiah (Boris Starling), Murdoch Mysteries (Maureen Jennings), Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries (Kerry Greenwood), Inspector Montalbano (Andrea Camilleri), Shetland, Vera (both Ann Cleeves), Case Histories, Poirot (Agatha Christie), and Maigret (Georges Simenon).