When I saw the cover of June 10th’s ‘Parade Magazine’ with Nathan Fillian chest deep in water holding Jaws, I had to explore what the heck the point of this photo was. Turns out the actor who plays the title role of Richard Castle on the TV detective series, is a reader. A real one—not a fake one you see played on TV. He’s been addicted to the printed word since childhood when his parents would allow an extra half hour awake time if he were reading. So he read, a lot.
“Now I read in bed. I read at work. I read standing in line, It’s like, ‘Hello, my name is Nathan and I’m a reader.”
You don’t very often hear of Hollywood types admitting they read like fiends. I’m not sure why—maybe it would look as though they were geeks? Which Fillian completely acknowledges about himself. Even better, “I still buy actual books,” he says, holding a worn paperback of Jaws and bringing it to his face with a deep inhale. “The smell, having it in your hands—-there’s really no substitute.”
The few titles they show that he recommends include a book about a real shark attack off the New Jersey coast in 1916 (I’ll skip that one, I intend to visit the shore soon), a title in the Game of Thrones series (I’ll skip that too—I’ve no idea what the heck that entire bru-ha-ha is about, and if it’s science fiction, then even more reason to pass), a post-apocalyptic book with Zombies (I don’t even have to explain why that is not being added to my library), and the Robert Parker Spenser series, (been there, done that, but it’s nice to see he has some taste). Fillian likes Spenser so much; he hopes they want to revisit the books as TV because he’d be interested. He must have missed the TV movies they did a while ago with Joe Mantagna.
Ok, so it’s a pleasant look at an actor’s reading habits, with the added info that he co-founded Kids Need To Read, which provides books to schools libraries, etc; which, naturally, I applaud.
However, what sparked my imagination after reading the article was the idea of a fictional detective’s reading preferences. And then I remembered the very Spenser Fillion admires read various erudite writers. After all, his name is spelled like the poet, a big point Parker would make. So it got me thinking about other fictional TV detectives, and what their favorite written material might be.
Lately I’ve been hooked on the Mannix TV series from the late 60s and 70s starring the super Mike Connors as the hard boiled but warm, likable Joe Mannix, with a groundbreaking black assistant, Gail Fisher as Peggy—(last name I forget—and I’m not sure they even billed her with a last name). I started imagining what Mannix may have read.
He’s a former military guy, fought in Korea, as did Spenser, but also was a solider for hire and in special ops at one point. He grew up learning about the tough world of growing grapes for wine with his Armenian father who disapproves of his leaving the vineyards for detective work. He’s had his serious relationships, and he’s not a flirtatious kind of fellow, unlike Kookie from 77 Sunset Strip,(read Teen Beat or book on hair styles) or Napoleon Solo from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (Can’t help thinking he looked in the mirror a lot–he probably kept some men’s toiletries catalogs around). Mannix is a strong individualist who left a computerized corporation to strike out on his own. So, what types of books would he read? My guess would be if he had time, which is unlikely, he’d read a few magazines about world events. And maybe a non-fiction book or two encompassing current philosophies. Nothing smacking of higher learning or classic literature. No relaxing reads either. No girlie mags for him.
So moving on, I’ve also been watching Honey West, one of the first female detectives on TV. Based on the novels, Honey although able to fight off bad guys, shoot
perfectly, and do all that her male partner does, she is decidedly feminine—she wears form fitting fashionable dresses with all sorts of fur, is made up to the hilt, and her transmitting devices include a lipstick and compact that have teeny antennas. Her high heels seem to never leave her feet. Oh, did I mention the wild beast she keeps as a pet? An ocelot. So, reading? She would keep up with the most innovative tech stuff but I see her reading Peyton Place and subscribing to Vogue, and the fashion magazines.
Peter Gunn? Rockford? Burke—of Burke’s Law, MacGyver? Macmillan and Wife? (She gets no name in the TV title, naturally, just the little ole wife) McCloud? Magnum P.I.? Have you ever noticed how many detective names on TV begin with M? Anyhoo—I don’t remember much about Peter Gunn except the music, but he seemed suave and more refined than most P.I.s. Perhaps a Gore Vidal crime novel written under a pseudonym? Rockford—he probably spent most of his reading moments trying to decipher his medical bills, he always seemed to be injured, and obviously he hadn’t insurance. Now Burke was the sophisticate, although on the police force he had a private income that afforded him to wear fine clothes and attract gorgeous women. I’d think he’d be reading ‘The New Yorker’ magazine, maybe some Truman Capote, current authors for late 50s-60s, cutting edge for then. No question for MacGyver—techie instructionals—how to use a stick of gum and a shoelace to create a weapon of mass destruction. Macmillan was a bachelor turned new husband, so he’d likely be trying to read what his wife liked. The show aired at the end of the flower power era so I imagine her reading light popular fiction of the day, with feminist overtones. McCloud wouldn’t leave his Texas roots behind, so I’m pretty sure on his down time he was eating up Louis L’Amour novels. As for Magnum, hmm. Not a crass individual, but not particularly mature in personality. If he read, it would be along the comic book line, with maybe a couple of joke books thrown in.
A&E briefly aired a fun series of Nero Wolfe mysteries based on the famous Rex Stout novels. Wolfe never left his brownstone and was obsessed with food, ale, and orchids. An intellectual, he probably read every classic and encyclopedic volume in existence, he certainly had the time to do so. Orchid growing manuals and catalogs as well as cookbooks would be pleasure reads for him. His assistant, Archie Goodwin wouldn’t be caught dead with a book, but a newspaper would be constantly at his beck and call.
More recent detectives have been quirkier in personality—like Monk. I imagine he spent hours perusing cleaning product catalogs, trying to find the perfect mop or sponge. As for all the various members of the Law and Order casts—only one sticks out has having heavy reading ability—Goren, from Law and Order Criminal Intent. He seemed to be an expert on a great deal of different subjects, and not surface knowledge either. Psychology was a large part of his technique, and he knew the area thoroughly. Even arcane bits and pieces would pop out of his brain to help solve a puzzling crime. His character was enough of a loner to have the lack of other priorities to spend most of his off time researching and studying. He always struck me as a sad lonely individual; almost like the character in J. D. Salinger’s ‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish’ a person with too gifted an IQ to be able to function within a society with the rest of us less intelligent creatures.
Jessica Fletcher wrote mystery novels and bodies fell left and right in her hometown of Cabot Cove, which prompted a new awareness of improbability. Up until the show, we as readers simply suspended disbelief when it came to murders striking in the same vicinity time after time. Unfortunately, the show shined too bright a light on coincidence and now poor writers who set their mysteries in small towns are forced to deal with the ‘Cabot Cove’ dilemma. So what would Jessica read? Well in her early years, I think books on various recipes would have satisfied her, but as she began traveling all over tarnation, to
avoid that Cabot Cove curse, she became much more sophisticated, so I see her reading the latest literary light, Pulitzer prize winners, and fellow crime writers, just to keep apace of the competition.
Last, my favorite TV show ever, The Avengers with Mrs. Emma Peel and John Steed present easy ideas. Steed no doubt subscribed to gentleman’s periodicals, wine books and magazines would be favored, with a few brochures ballyhooing the newest in bowlers and brollys. Emma, ah, Emma, she has a genius IQ so no girly stuff in her library. She ran her father’s business, so I would guess many complicated texts would be among her past reads, as well as scientific journals, physics, mathematics, and cutting edge psychology. And maybe, just maybe a brochure of swinging outfits. She wore THE coolest jumpsuits ever.
One of the enjoyable things about the Castle TV show is the recruiting of real writers to play themselves. Authors such as Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, and the late detective TV producer/novelist, Stephen Cannell stopped by for poker night. This mixing the fake with the real with the fake lends credibility to Castle’s profession of writer, and certainly wins over readers like myself who also enjoy the good television mystery story! And to confuse things further, there are physical books with Richard Castle as the author in your local bookstore shelves.
Out of curiosity—what would your favorite TV detective read, do you think—and if my choices are way off base, what would they read instead? Inquiring minds want to know!