LOST IN TRANSLATION – Books to Television

I love cozy mysteries. I love reading cozies. I love writing cozies and I love watching them on television and in the theatre. Hallmark Channel’s mystery series should make me ecstatic. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case. I love watching the older series (Murder, She Wrote, Diagnosis Murder, and Mystery Woman Books). However, there has been something about the most recent series, Garage Sale Mystery, Murder She Baked, and Aurora Teagarden that have been just the slightest bit off. Because I’m the type of person who analyzes everything, I’ve been trying to figure out what it is. I think I’ve finally figured out what bothers me. In translating mysteries from books to the screen, I think something gets lost in the translation.

The cozy mysteries Hallmark has chosen to turn into movies are all best sellers. Joanne Fluke, and Charlaine Harris are award winning, bestselling authors. So, the problem isn’t in the content. The actors Hallmark has selected have also been great, award winners. So, I don’t think it’s the acting or the quality of the acting. Hallmark is also one of my favorite channels and is known for their high quality programming. I, like almost any author, would love to have a book featured on Hallmark. However, something is different and I believe it’s the changes that have to be made to take books and place them in a visual medium for the screen. I’ve written about this before (See Cozies on the Small Screen). However, while watching the latest, Emma Fielding mystery, something struck me. I like the Emma Fielding Mysteries. I also like the Flower Shop Mystery series. So, what’s different?

To answer that last question, I need to take you on a small journey back into my past. When I was getting my MFA at Seton Hill University, one of my mentors, Patrick Picciarelli, came to mind. Patrick was a former New York City police officer who was currently a private investigator who also wrote true crime novels. So, you have me, an aspiring cozy mystery writer, working with an ex NY City cop. To this day, I can still hear his voice in my head saying, “That suspends belief.” Last night, while watching a Murder, She Baked episode I heard that voice in my head and realized what caused my problem. Translating a book which is very cerebral into a visual medium requires changes. Unfortunately, some of those changes can, in Patrick’s terms, suspend belief. So, as baker, Hannah Swensen showed up at a crime scene with her policeman boyfriend and starts investigating, I thought, That suspends belief. However, I kept watching. when she then shows up at the school (minus her policeman boyfriend) and asks to be let into the victim’s office to…snoop, I waited. Surely, they wouldn’t just let her inside, but I was wrong. They did. Apparently, that suspended my belief too far and I changed the channel. I rarely hear that voice when reading cozy mysteries, but then the protagonist rarely does things quite that…far fetched.

The very nature of cozy mysteries with an amateur sleuth investigating and solving crime requires the suspension of belief to a certain degree. However, I think there is something in the nature of television that pushes things to the limits. Anyone who watches cozy mysteries on television or at the movies will get the impression every crime solving sleuth in cozy mysteries is supermodel gorgeous like Brooke Shields (Flower Shop Mysteries).  Every amateur sleuth’s love interests is smart, funny, physically fit and extremely handsome. Every cozy mystery keeps you on the edge of your seat while the amateur sleuth chases down killers (while wearing high heels, in designer clothes and in full makeup). Television/movie viewers have expectations. Filling those expectations requires directors/producers to take liberties, some of which suspend belief.  Does that mean books converted to movies are bad and should be avoided? Absolutely NOT. Mysteries on screen can be just as entertaining as mysteries in books. I may just need to focus on the hunky love interest and suspend my belief a bit further. 

2 Comments

  1. Just read the plot is murder. Having grown up in stevensville mi. I was delighted to see that north and south harbor remind me of st joe and Benton harbor. I look forward in the next book for reminders of my great childhood

    1. That is great. North and South Harbor are indeed based on Benton Harbor and St. Joe Michigan. I’m from South Bend, but I lived in Southwest Michigan for about six years for work. There is so much wonderful history and beauty, especially during the summer. I don’t miss the winters, but I do miss the Lake Michigan Shoreline. I hope you’ll enjoy book #2, Read Herring Hunt which releases on April 24th.

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