Timothy Hutton's in a movie called The Ghost Writer. This is a big deal because I'm in love with Timothy Hutton. OK, so really I'm in love with Archie Goodwin, the character he played in the Nero Wolfe series. Archie's a wiseass, a snappy dresser, intelligent eyes in a believeable face. Archie's Mr Wolfe's right-hand man, he's the administrator, the go-to guy who calls up the troops - Saul, Benny, Lon et al - and tells them succinctly what they need to know to get the job done. He weaves in and out of classy high-society and has a healthy relationship with the cops and capos alike.
I saw the trailer for The Ghost Writer on The Guardian, wasted the first few minutes remembering that I had read this book of political intrigue and murder - it's a cracker - seeing and admiring Ewan McGregor's spot on take on the main hero and being surprised by James' Belushi's convincing turn as the decision-making publisher. I was just comparing the film version of the wishy-washy old-school UK publisher and the written version when the camera flashed on Timothy. When it turned out that that was it for Timothy Hutton in the movie, I felt cheated.
Other great movies from great books have to start with the actioners: The Patrick O'Brian series of novels about adventures on the high seas are amazingly engaging historical stories that appeal to all ages. I thought that Master and Commander and The Far Side of the World were two separate books that were amalgamated in one movie until I checked the listings on Amazon. Peter Weir the director was the magic meister who brought it all home perfectly. Russell Crowe and whasisname, (Jennifer Connelly's husband, good-looking, starred with Russell in A Beautiful Mind too), were a terrific piece of casting. The adventure was thrillingly told and its appeal stretches to everyone with a heart and a sensitive pulse, from those who like the excitement of physical adventure stories to anyone with 10 or 11-year-old boys of their own. (Paul Bettany, was the Irish scientist, the captain's best friend and counterfoil to the captain's primary role in His Majesty's Navy.)
Patricia Highsmith's novels of a strangely compelling and likeable psycho in 1950s Italy centring on The Talented Mr Ripley are another fab combo for those who like to read the book before seeing the film. And at the end of it there's a wonderful film with a great treatment and cast, starring Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law and Philip Seymour. The glamour of the era, the contemporary beauty and romance of the Amalfi coast and the moral ambiguity of the story are very satisfyingly treated in both.
I've to re-read and then see Paul Bowles' The Sheltering Sky as I was blown away by the book and not so happy about the movie treatment by Bernardo Bertolucci. (Yes, I do realize that the day I can hold a candle to Mr Bertolucci is the day I can afford to voice an opinion, but I'm Irish, so that's never stopped me before.) Anyway, as both the film and book were read and seen when I was a child genius, it could turn out that the movie's actually more satisfying than the book.
But the release of The Ghost Writer prompted me to think of other fictional characters I've loved for ages and will be watching with a gimlet eye in case something along the chain from book to screen disappoints:
Jack Reacher. Lee Child's Lone Ranger is a heady mixture of a soldier and a cop who has some commitment issues but apart from that is damn near perfect.
Kinsey Millhone is a role model for anyone who wants to be adorable. Sue Grafton's 37 or 38-year-old PI is based in Santa Teresa (a fictional Santa Barbara), and her 'family' is a retired old baker, his dapper brother and the uber wonderful owner of the local diner.
Stephanie Plum is very funny bounty hunter, who has the trials of a warm, close-knit family, a hot Italian boyfriend and an equally close-knit 'family' of colleagues including an ex-hooker and a psycho senior bounty hunter actually called Ranger.
It also prompted me to have a look for Rex Stout's books as he was the genius creator of the fabulous Archie and, of course, the illustrious Mr Nero Wolf, a man of wide girth and very peculiar peccadilloes (he's practically OCD about food and orchids), suffers nincompoops with explosive disdain and shouts a lot. I found not just the books, dvds and so on but also – joy of joys! – found that there's a Nero Wolf cookbook too. I should have known that a cookbook in the series was too good an idea to let waste, after all we're talking about a man who thinks scrambled eggs should take three weeks (or some other ridiculous amount of time) to cook.