The book of the show of the book – 11 top crime shows, 11 great reads

Sherlock, Hercule Poirot, Inspector Morse and Maigret – crime fiction’s biggest characters are television favourites as well. Hundreds of shows have been based on crime books and you can find a very extensive list on IMDB. Vera, Dexter, Rebus… the list goes on and on. Sometimes, however, crime shows appear without viewers ever realising that they’re based on interesting crime novels. This is increasingly what’s happening as Amazon, Netflix and the traditional broadcasters look for more innovative and contemporary works to adapt. But the reverse can happen as well. Once a crime show has proven to be a hit, then a novel appears for fans to devour. We decided to take a look at some of the most interesting crime shows out there, and tell you about the book of the show, or the show of the book…

While we’ve zeroed in on 11 great shows, each with some recommended reading, but we’re sure there are other examples out there as well. Feel free to make suggestions in the comments below.

The Killing

This really is the book of the show because the Danish television crime drama The Killing came first, and then British crime author David Hewson was commissioned to write the book. He took show creator Søren Sveistrup’s story and converted it to text, capturing the bleak, rainy atmosphere perfectly, and faithfully retracing Sara Lund’s investigation into the disappearance of teenager Nanna Birk Larsen. The 20-episode series explores all sorts of plot strands and provides numerous suspects, but Hewson handles it perfectly, alongside the tension in the Birk Larsen household as the fact that Nanna might not be coming home slowly sinks in. The book isn’t as widely known as the show, but it should be on your shelf if you love Nordic noir. Series two and three were novelised by the same writer. Now, if only they’d do the same for The Bridge…
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The Sinner

Crime fiction lovers who’ve seen the American television series The Sinner are often surprised when we tell them that it’s actually based on a book – and one from Germany. Petra Hammesfahr’s novel, translated by John Brownjohn, doesn’t push the religious fundamentalist angle quite as much as the programme, but that same sense of Catholic guilt, confusion and unpredictability is there in main character Cora Bender, who has inexplicably stabbed a man to death during a family day out by a local lake. While she is held for the murder, a detective called Rudolf Grovian tries to get to the bottom of it and what he discovers will shock you. If, of course, you haven’t already seen the series. We reviewed the novel just recently.
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Babylon Berlin

We’re staying in Germany for this novel, and again it’s one that few people know about, even though they may have watched the lavish German crime programme that blew our minds early last year. Set in the Roaring 20s, Babylon Berlin is actually based on the novels Der nasse Fisch and Der stumma Tod by Volker Kutscher. In the show, elements from the two books are drawn together somewhat. Der nasse Fisch is available in translation as Babylon Berlin, while Der stumma Tod translates to The Silent Death. You will probably find the books are darker and grittier than the television series, with more focus on the troubled detective Kommissar Gereon Rath as he tries to solve a murder, find a Russian emigre and a train carriage full of gold, while avoiding entanglement with his Nazi partner Bruno Wolter. The show is stunning, but the books are worth reading for their added detail. Isn’t that always the case, though? The story has also been adapted as a graphic novel.
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Bosch

You could say that what we’re talking about here is the book of the show of the paintings, because Michael Connolly’s main character is named after the Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch and the LA he inhabits often seems like a Garden of Unearthly Delights. And delight in it you will if you pick up City of Bones (2002), The Concrete Blonde (1994) or Echo Park (2006), the novels which formed the basis for the story used in Bosch season one on Amazon. However, if you’re a stickler for sequence, then the book you want to start with is The Black Echo, the first Bosch novel. In this story, Harry Bosch is investigating the death of one of his old army comrades whose body was found in a storm drain. It looks like an overdose but Bosch isn’t keen to let the case get swept under the carpet. He thinks it was murder. The Black Echo was used for season three of the TV series. We reviewed it back on its 20th anniversary in 2012.
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The Cry

“Hey, we’ve reviewed that,” is what we thought when the BBC suddenly started running trailers for its programme, The Cry, last year. While they tinkered with the ending a little, the show was an excellent adaptation of the eponymous novel by Helen FitzGerald, which came out in 2013. New parents Joanna and Alistair are travelling from Glasgow to his home town in Australia when their infant son Noah goes missing. Was he snatched by parties unknown, or will suspicion turn on the parents? PR whiz Alistair thinks he might be able to manage public and police opinion but the stress of having their baby go missing begins to tell. The novel is perhaps a little darker than the programme, which tended towards the raw emotions involved, but psychologically it is on a par. It’s excellent. Read our review from back in the day.
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The Frozen Dead

Lots of people come to our site to read our original review of The Frozen Dead by Bernard Minier after watching the TV adaptation on Netflix. In this case, the book is even better than the show. It’s the first novel in the author’s series featuring Commandant Martin Servaz and is set high in the French Pyrenees, where the winter weather is brutal. The body of a decapitated horse has been found hanging from an icy cliff edge. The strange thing is that the DNA of notorious serial killer Julian Hirtmann is found on the horse’s cadaver. Meanwhile, forensic psychologist Diane Berg has arrived to work at an insane asylum in the mountains, and soon suspects that her superiors are hiding something. French crime fiction doesn’t come much more atmospheric than this. You’ll enjoy it.
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Luther

Luther: The Calling is like a bonus feature or an Easter egg for fans of the show. None of the five series of the BBC’s hit London crime drama is based on the book, but it was authored by the show’s writer Neil Cross. Luther: The Calling is the prequel. You know that bad cop reputation Luther has during the series? Read this and you’ll find out what shaped his character and why suspicion follows him wherever he goes. After all, he is a detective who will turn a blind eye, squeeze between the bars, or simply fail to give a criminal hanging from a ledge a hand up. Here, his anger and obsessiveness is stoked by a serial killer – and to stop them, it seems likely that Luther will need to cross the line. Although the main character hasn’t been filtered by a director and isn’t portrayed by an actor as you read, you’ll probably have no trouble imagining Idris Elba as John Luther.
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Broadchurch

Oscar nominee Olivia Colman wasn’t quite as well known when she starred in the 2013 ITV crime show Broadchurch, but she helped bring it stellar success with about nine million Brits tuning in. Following the success of the show, its producer and writer Chris Chibnal teamed up with crime author Erin Kelly to produce an excellent novel based on the story. When DS Ellie Miller returns from holiday she’s in buoyant spirits, trusting that she’s about to be promoted within the force. Her heart sinks when Alec Hardy is given the detective inspector position instead. But even more devastating is the news that 10-year-old Danny Latimer, a good friend of her own son Tom, has been found dead on the beach in the Dorset town of Broadchurch. Suspicion is rampant as the small community’s secrets are brought to light by the police investigation. We gave it five stars when it came out.
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Cardinal

Forty Words for Sorrow by Giles Blunt is a book well known to Canadian readers, and was the basis of the first season of Cardinal. John Cardinal is a Toronto cop who has moved to the fictional town of Algonquin Bay in Northern Ontario. Partnered with Lise Delorme, an ambitious young investigator, he’s looking into the death of Katie Pine, a teenage girl who went missing in the summer but whose frozen body was found in a mine shaft during the winter. In the meantime, her abductor has been planning their next move and has an accomplice. Published in 2000, this book is a phenomenal read and landed at the top of our list of the best Canadian crime novels of all time a couple of years ago. Forty Words for Sorrow – four words for excellent.
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Strike

Of all the TV programmes mentioned on the list, this is probably the one that gained the greatest number of viewers based on the popularity of the books. And that’s down to the profile of their author, for Robert Galbraith, the creator of Cormoran Strike, is none other than JK Rowling. There have been three BBC TV series so far, and four books in the print series. The first is the best starting point – The Cuckoo’s Calling details Strike’s investigation into the death of supermodel Lula Landry, who fell from a balcony in Mayfair. He’s been commissioned by her brother, and the book seethes with suspects and possible angles. Robin Ellacott joins the private detective as his assistant and they traverse London, working their leads and negotiating the mores of the Mayfair set that Landry belonged to. Great writing is what you get with a writer like JK Rowling. Whether you’ve seen the show or not, you should treat yourself. Here’s our review.
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Killing Eve

BBC America’s exciting and stylish espionage series Killing Eve was one of the best shows of 2018, but few had read the Kindle novellas it was based on when the programme first aired in the US last April. The first was published in 2014, and now all four of them have been collected into a novel entitled Codename Villanelle, and republished to capitalise on the show’s success. The original stories include Codename Villanelle, Villanelle: Hollowpoint, Villanelle: Shanghai and Odessa. You’ll get a bit more background on Oxana Vorontsova – AKA Villanelle – and how she comes to be employed by a shadowy elite, then move into the storyline of the second novella, which is closer to the TV show. You’ll travel the globe with the assassin as she carries on her work in the third and fourth stories that have now been merged into the novel. Like the show it’s got a certain zip to it – contemporary pulp for the age of Kindle.
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