Tuesday, July 2, 2019

All Aboard! Inspector French to Ride Again in a New Detective Drama Series

All aboard! The Crofts train is coming to the station.
I alluded to this at the end of my blog post of this morning, and now I free to talk about it at greater depth.  Deadline reports that an Inspector French series, based on the Golden Age Inspector French mysteries of Freeman Wills Crofts, is in development.

From the article:

Set in 1930s Ireland, Scotland and England, Inspector French is a dogged world class detective banished from Scotland Yard to post-partition Northern Ireland where he battles to introduce modern policing techniques to a reluctant force....

[Freeman Wills] Crofts was a Belfast railway engineer who became a bestselling crime author...Critics describe him as "the father of the police procedural."  TS Eliot was a fan, and Raymond Chandler described him as "the soundest builder of them all," said (writer Brendan] Foley. 

"The backdrop to Inspector French's investigations are the great houses and factories of the new industrialists as well as the mean streets of Belfast and the country estates of the fading aristocracy," said Foley....

"The series is crammed with interesting characters, none more so than Inspector French himself ,who hides secrets of his own as he cracks cases."

Would you ever have expected this ten years ago?  I've been talking on and off with Brendan Foley about this project for some time now, and now it appears that he has brilliantly brought it off.  Much credit to Brendan, whom I plan to post my interview with this weekend. 

I have read the script of what is to be the first episode, based on a Crofts novel which I write about extensively in my 2012 book about Crofts, John Street and JJ Connington, and I am excited about the whole thing.  Crofts readers will be able to tell just from this article that there are changes being made for the adaptation, changes which will be forthrightly aired here, but I think fans of the book will be pleased, as well as mystery fans more generally. 

I do hope the series will do well, because think of all the locked doors it could send flying open to additional mysteries series adaptations of Golden Age detective novels, as the Deadline article hints concerning possible filming of additional Harper/Collins Crime Club reprints.  Incidentally, I contributed an introduction to the last of the series: Carolyn Wells' Murder in the Bookshop.  Anyone up for "The Fleming Stone Mysteries"? 

Or, heck, how about my cherished John Rhode?  Phlip Macdonald?  JJ Connington?  Brian Flynn?  John Bude?  ECR Lorac?  Moray Dalton?  Who knows, folks?  These are golden days to dream, mystery dreamers, so dare to dream big!

The adaptation would be as if "Peaky Blinders invaded Downton Abbey," says Brendan Foley.  There will be more said here about that in that in the coming days, believe me!  Personally I think it fits with a point I made in my book and in this prior blog post about Crofts, in which I compared him in some ways (and contrasted him in others) with modern crime writer Ian Rankin.  Read the post and see what you think of my reasoning.


  1. I just finished reading the Deadline article about Foley and the Crofts series. You neglected to mention one of the most intriguing and tantalizing sentences implying so much more may be in the works: "Free@Last TV...recently struck a deal with Harper Collins and Quadrant to develop TV movies and series from some of the 50+ books in the Classic Crime Club imprint." That means we may see not only Crofts, but John Rhode, Philip MacDonald, Lynn Brock and Vernon Loder on TV!!

    1. Or even Carolyn Wells! Just think of all those Fleming Stones. ;) I did mention the possibility of other series, but we'll have to see how this one goes. I'm hoping for John Rhode meself!

  2. "Inspector French is a dogged world class detective banished from Scotland Yard to post-partition Northern Ireland..."

    This series is going to be nothing like the original Inspector French stories. Why would you be excited about another modern "update" of a classic detective series? Only good that will come from this is that it might lead to more Crofts reprints. So count me out.

    1. Crofts' Inspector French isn't a character to speak of, he's an archetype. Crofts' books leaves plenty of room for filling in character.

      But both Frenches are certainly dogged! As for the shift to Ulster (two Crofts novels do take place there), why does that bother you so much? With Crofts the mystery plots are the things. But it's something we talk about in the upcoming interview.

      As for excitement, yes I am excited. Crofts' novels are being filmed. Why not give it a chance before proclaiming "travesty!" I think we are a long way from Sarah Phelps here.

    2. Incidentally, have you read the novel Sir John Magill's Last Journey (to be the first in the series)? Do you know how thin the characters are in the novel? This is fine in a pure puzzle detective novel, but would make awfully dull going in a film. In fact, such a film would never get made.

      I've read the script for Magill, by the way, and we will be talking about in the interview. Check it out, or not, as you see fit.

    3. It's not the dogged part that bothers me. Of course not! What bothers me is the "banished from Scotland Yard" bit. They're not going to fill in the character in any meaningful way. They're going to turn French into another troubled policeman and the series is going to be a modern police procedural with a historical setting.

      All I want is to enjoy one, just one, adaptation that stays loyal to the source material, like the superb A&E Nero Wolfe series, which even managed to improve the plot and story-telling of The Doorbell Rang!

    4. "Incidentally, have you read the novel Sir John Magill's Last Journey (to be the first in the series)?"

      No. But it's on the big pile. Yes, I'll be checking out the interview.

    5. Yes, it's putting French into the currently popular mold (wait until you find out what happens to Emily French), but I would argue that that is, while familiar, more interesting than book French. Joseph French, as envisioned by Crofts, is hardly a triumph of characterization. He's like something out of Pilgrim's Progress. If the series does a good job with the mystery plots I'm okay.

      Plus "they" have interests in a lot of the interests that Crofts expressed in the books, the sort of things I discussed in Masters. There are legitimate similarities between Crofts and writers like Ian Rankin, although obvious differences too.

      I share your admiration for the Nero Wolfe series, but Stout's gift for characterization far surpassed that of Crofts. If a scriptwriter wants to "improve" Crofts in that respect, I would say, good, there's certainly room for improvement.

    6. Incidentally, I'd feel the same way about my beloved Lancelot Priestley. In my view as long as the plots are preserved they could have April get murdered by a serial killer (I never liked April anyway) and Dr. P's wife having got slain by that deadly green hedgehog in the Ellerby Case. I would get upset if they changed his character from that of the cantankerous old bastard we all know and love. French is still going to that dogged detective, and other qualities described in the books are preserved. He's just no longer so relentlessly goody-goody.

    7. "Yes, it's putting French into the currently popular mold (wait until you find out what happens to Emily French)"

      I knew it! I knew it the moment I read the description of the series. So this is not exactly filling me with hope or convincing me to give it a shot. I already know I'll hate it.

      "I share your admiration for the Nero Wolfe series, but Stout's gift for characterization far surpassed that of Crofts."

      Yeah, but Stout's gift for characterization and dialogue is not what made the Nero Wolfe TV-series work, it sure helped, but it had a lot to do with the scriptwriters who cared and understood the source material. I can only imagine the scriptwriters of this new series read the original novels with a pencil in hand to cross out everything that had to be cut out or altered.

      Why not simply dispatch French to Northern Ireland with the task of modernizing the police there, because he would exactly be the kind of man for such a job. That would be an acceptable departure. You can tell the story of modern policeman flung in a hopelessly outdated police apparatus without having to rely on personal or professional angst. A normal, competent policeman in an outdated surrounding has only really been done in BBC's Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes.

    8. It's nothing too horrible, but let's just say Inspector French is a widower in this one. But, come on, the relationship between French and his wife in the books is rather insipid. No one wanted to see Em French as a "motherly body" (with no children) whosits home and knits all day and has her "notions." Be reasonable!

      All I'm saying is there is room to play around with French, where there isn't with tecs like Wolfe and Poirot. If you don't like any angst or back story for your tec, then I can't help you. There are similarities to book French (I daresay I know book French pretty damn well), but also similarities to other modern detectives. I don't believe it's too big a stretch to have Crofts in conflict with superiors, for example, though that's a familiar feature of police detective drama.

      I just think sometimes people always want to assume the worst.

  3. It's great news which I wouldn't have believed I'd live to see one decade ago. Crofts not being a particularly cinematic writer I understand that some changes had to be made for a TV adaptation to work. I hope the ratings are good so that 1°) more episodes come up 2°) other Golden Agers benefit from it - you know who I have in mind - and 3°) French television buys the series.

    The Golden Age is back, hopefully for good this time. We were the vanguard and we didn't even know it. :)

    1. Well, that is how I feel, Xavier. I've always believed that the "Humdrums" are good vehicles for adaptations because of the plots and they leave room for scriptwriters to fiddle with the characters in many cases. I'm fine with that. Finally someone has taken a look at something from the GA other than Agatha Christie and the Crime Queens. I am thrilled that we are talking about something else besides another iteration of Agatha.

      I agree with you, this would have seemed impossible a decade ago when all of us at Yahoo GAD were bellyaching about everything under the sun. We, the persecuted minority of classic crime fiction lovers, finally can stop feeling so persecuted.

    2. If this leads to (preferably) David Renwick adapting some of Carr's novels, I'll be more than happy. Oh! And I want to see Timothy Hutton play Ellery Queen! If only for a one-off.

    3. Tim Hutton is getting a little long in the tooth for Ellery, if we want to stay full congruent with the book! Would love to see Carr adaptations, though transforming Fell or Merrivale into believable tecs for a lot of people would be a challenge. But I'm sure you'd expire if they were passed over altogether.