Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Prime Suspect by Lynda La Plante - Book Review

Prime Suspect by Lynda La Plante (Harper Perennial, 2012, $14.99) was first published as a novel as a companion-piece for the highly successful ITA Prime Suspect television series in Great Britain starring world-famed actress Helen Mirrin as the ambitious, brittle, and brilliant Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison. The television program was a huge success in England and later in the U.S. As a mystery theater presentation on Public Broadcasting System. The first three books in this series, first released in England in 1993, have been re-released in the U.S. to coincide with the sadly already canceled American version of the show that premiered last fall on NBC television. The U.S. version, starring a well-cast Maria Bello in the role of Jane Tennison, captured well the resistance of New York detectives to having a woman boss, or at least team member, and their efforts to undermine her. Unfortunately, series drama is quickly dying on commercial television. Shows are canceled after one or two episodes if they don't immediately capture an audience. They are also so frequently pre-empted by inexpensive award shows, or re-runs rather than run against popular programs like American Idol and risking low ratings. This program would likely have been a huge success on USA, TNT, FX cable channels where people who enjoy crime drama series know they can find reliably interesting, edgy fare. Nevertheless, my perception was happily fixed on a combination of Mirren/Bello as I approached Lynda La Plante's police procedural introducing Jane Tennison as a literary character. 

Helen Mirren as Jane Tennison

Maria Bello as Jane Tennison

DCI (Detective Chief Inspector) Jane Tennisson has recently been assigned to work at the Southampton Row police station as an investigator, but has been relegated to small cases filled with paper-work while being counseled by her superior to wait and bide her time. Meanwhile, the hearty and popular John Shefford has grabbed control of the vicious murder of prostitute Della Mornay with relish, quickly identified a possible prime suspect, and urged his team on to break the record of obtaining a conviction. His speed causes him to make mistakes, there appears to be some confounding information when the dead woman's diary is found, while Sherrod, revved up by his excitement for the case, has a heart attack and dies. Tennison, quickly seeing an opportunity for herself, requests, and is given, command of the team, loyal to their recently deceased “guv.” Naturally the team resents both Tennison's ambitious quick move and the fact she's a woman in a man's job. The team seethes with bitter anger while trying to maintain their late boss's reputation by continuing to try to quickly close the case, which becomes quickly more complicated, as the prime suspect is released from custody to lack of adequate evidence. A complex and fairly riveting plot moves on from that point.

While the case is interesting, focusing on the murder of a series of prostitutes around England that bear remarkable similarities, the driving force behind this novel, as well as the television series upon which it is based, lies in the character of Jane Tennison – her ambition, her humanity, her grit, her resentment, her prickly personality, and her ability. Tennison must prove herself to a group of men who've been together as a team for a long time, are grieving the loss of their boss, and deeply resent the installation of a woman in charge of their efforts. Tennison, meanwhile, is involved with a live-in lover who's still mourning the loss to another man of his wife and a family which lavishes more attention on her homebody sister than their accomplished police woman other daughter. In other words, Tennison seeks to balance many of the tensions and problems facing accomplished working women today brought to heightened intensity by the urgent pressure to solve the high profile crime investigation she's directing. All this makes for an intriguing, involving reading as well as page-turning excitement.

Lynda La Plante

Lynda La Plante wrote the treatment and the original screen plays of the first three episodes of the British Prime Suspect, which ran through seven series of episodes. La Plante wrote the teleplays for the first and third along with the story for the second. She was awarded the coveted Edgar Award for the best television crime drama by the Mystery Writers of America in 1993. Prime Suspect was voted one of the hundred greatest television mystery programs by the British Film Institute. According to Wikipedia, the show has had an important influence on the development women's dramatic roles in American television. As with many novelizations of television programs and movies, as well as the reverse, the formats often to meld well enough to be completely convincing. Fortunately, La Plante has the opportunity here to re-envision her teleplay as a novel, which generally works pretty well.

Prime Suspect by Lynda La Plante is published as a Harper Perennial (2012) although it was first published in England in 1993. It retails in trade paperback for $14.99. La Plante also has written two other Prime Suspect books, PrimeSuspect 2: A Face in the Crowd and Prime Suspect 3: Silent Victims. I've begun reading A Face in the Crowd and will have something to say about it over at Goodreads. I received the book from the publisher through TLC BookTours.

Other Stops on Prime Suspect Book Tour
Monday, January 23rd: Sidewalk Shoes (Prime Suspect)
Wednesday, January 25th: Wordsmithonia (Prime Suspect)
Tuesday, January 31st: Jenn’s Bookshelves (Prime Suspect and A Face in the Crowd)
Monday, February 6th: Sara’s Organized Chaos (Prime Suspect and A Face in the Crowd)
Wednesday, February 8th: Jenn’s Bookshelves (Silent Victims)
Tuesday, February 14th: Jen’s Book Thoughts (Prime Suspect)
Wednesday, February 15th: Life In Review (Prime Suspect and A Face in the Crowd)
Thursday, February 16th: My Two Blessings (Prime Suspect)
Thursday, February 23rd: Life In Review (Silent Victims)
Tuesday, February 28th: My Two Blessings (A Face in the Crowd)
Wednesday, February 29th: Wordsmithonia (A Face in the Crowd)
Thursday, March 1st: Mockingbird Hill Cottage (Prime Suspect and A Face in the Crowd)
Wednesday, March 14th: Jen’s Book Thoughts (A Face in the Crowd)
Thursday, March 15th: My Two Blessings (Silent Victims)
Monday, March 19th: Sidewalk Shoes (Silent Victims)
Tuesday, March 20th: A Bookworm’s World (Prime Suspect, A Face in the Crowd, and Silent Victims)
Wednesday, March 21st: Chunky Monkey (Prime Suspect)
Thursday, March 22nd: Reviews by Molly (Prime Suspect and A Face in the Crowd)
Wednesday, March 28th: Wordsmithonia (Silent Victims)
Thursday, March 29th: Mockingbird Hill Cottage (Silent Victims)