Hollywood has always had the palate of a picky child when it comes to mystery writers, returning again and again to the same limited menu of literary comfort food: works by Dennis Lehane, Patricia Highsmith, James Ellroy, Dashiell Hammet, Thomas Harris, and Robert Ludlum. While they’ve each produced riveting (and in some cases, seminal) reads, they’ve become the producers’ equivalent of mac 'n' cheese and chicken fingers – adaptations of their works come with a kind of guarantee that audiences will gobble them up even if they’re not getting anything new or exciting. Case in point: TV’s “Hannibal.”
But this rote approach to the genre tailor-made for the big screen, ironically, takes some of the mystery out of the kinds of characters and plot twists populating these films. It has also meant that the camera-ready works of some very talented authors languish on bestseller lists while their film rights remain mystifyingly available. Until recently, Harlan Coben’s emotionally charged domestic thrillers topped this list of missed opportunities for multilayered film adaptations with the potential for crossover appeal to both art-house cineastes and the multiplex crowd. The acclaimed novelist has some twenty-four titles to his name but only one has made it to the big screen in the form of French director Guillaume Canet’s “Tell No One” – a masterful rendering of Coben’s tale of a grieving husband who becomes a suspect in the eight-year-old murder of his wife.
But with no fewer than five books in various stages of development, it appears that Hollywood has finally gotten wise to the untapped riches in Coben’s body of work. Hugh Jackman just signed on to star in Coben’s acclaimed recently released thriller, Six Years, about a man who spends six years pining for his ex-wife after she flees the relationship to marry another man. When he learns her second husband has died, he decides to crash the funeral, where he meets the man’s widow and his former wife is nowhere to be found.
Intricately plotted and psychologically complex, none of Coben’s books fit easily into the trailer-ready log line studio marketers adore. But fortunately that hasn’t stopped Ben Affleck from pouncing on an English-language adaptation of Tell No One and director Lawrence Kasdan from snatching up the movie rights to Stay Close, about a soccer mom, photojournalist and homicide cop whose lives become entangled by tragedy. Long Lost, Hold Tight, and The Woods are also progressing through various stages of development en route to the big screen.
It may be a while before any of these films reaches theaters, but this sudden Coben renaissance may be a sign that we might be seeing a wider array of long-neglected literary mysteries on the big screen in the coming years. Weigh in below with your list of some of the most egregiously overlooked authors in this genre.