Book: Broadchurch (based on the television series of the same name)
Author: Erin Kelly
Publication Info: 2014, Minotaur Books
Genres: Fiction, Cop Drama, Police Procedural, Mystery, Suspense, TV Novelization
Today’s book is Broadchurch by Erin Kelly, published in 2014 by Minotaur Books. It is based off the UK television series Broadchurch, which ran for 3 seasons a few years ago. It was a total hit, but I didn’t get ’round to watching it until 2020’s quarantine brought opportunities to blow through that endless To Be Watched list. Immediately, I knew I had come across an awesome show. I am already a fan of Tennant and Colman, so I cannot believe that it took so long for me to watch this show; however, there are so many other movies and series out there that I haven’t watched yet, knowing darn well they’re probably just as good.
When I found out that there was a book version of the show, I was curious to know how it translated. Earlier this year, I also watched “The Stranger” on Netflix, a UK rendition of a Harlan Coben book of the same name. The show and the book were dissimilar but kept the major premises; so, I wanted to see how the book interpreted the show.
It’s interesting to see how books and media are related. Books are made into shows or films, and sometimes shows are turned into books. So, in this instance, I’m sort of talking about both the show and the book because they are almost identical in all ways that matter.
In an idyllic coastal English town, the murder of an 11-year old boy shocks the small, tight-knit community. We are introduced to detective Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman in the show), recently returned from a transatlantic vacation hoping for the good news of a promotion; however, she is gutted when she finds out she’s been usurped by an infamous cop from a botched high-profile case, Alec Hardy (David Tennant in the show). Career tensions are however set aside momentarily when the body of a teenage boy is found on the beach of Broadchurch, and Ellie and Alec are tasked with finding out what happened.
Ellie discovers quickly that the deceased is Daniel (Danny) Latimer, the son of her close friends Beth and Mark Latimer and the best friend of her own pre-teen boy. The story spends time developing Ellie as a detective — this is her first big murder case, she is so close to the family and community that it is hard to put those biases aside). Whereas, Alec’s hardened nature, while frustrating to Ellie, guides her during the investigation. The storyline is similar to that of the “small-town community has secrets unveiled during investigation of a crime” trope. Characters have motives that are hidden under layers of secrets. Each of these secrets are suspicious in their own right.
Ultimately, the investigation takes its course, and they do figure out who killed Danny. This book only covers the first season of the show, so if you’ve watched the show, then you know who it is and what happens after during the trial. However, as just a book, you’ll only know the killer and assume that it is over.
First, let me say that I loved the Broadchurch television series (season 1 is great, 2 is good but I could do without the Lee Ashworth storyline, 3 is okay). For the purposes of this review, I’ll just be taking the book into consideration, but I will preface this section by saying that the book is a pretty solid rendition of the show. It stays true to the dialogue, nature, premises, and actions of the characters. If you’ve seen the show, you know what happens in this book.
This is my first book by the author, Erin Kelly. Immediately after finishing Broadchurch, I picked up another of her books (I got several when checking out at the library), The Burning Air. So, really, I can say this: Kelly has a straightforward way of writing. She does not spend extra pages talking about the beauty of someone’s frown lines. In the case of this book, her interpretation of the show is straightforward and true to the plot. In several cases, I think it’s pretty much exactly the same dialogue and timeline.
So, let’s approach this as if you hadn’t seen the show and it was just a book you found at the library. First, the writing is straightforward. There is a litany of characters, all intertwined in this intimate small-town, which means that you have to either keep track of them all or only focus on Ellie or Beth. You may find it difficult to form any attachment or allegiance to the characters in the book, whereas the series is the exact opposite (I think I was rooting for Ellie and Alec, as well as the Latimer’s from Day 1, with blind allegiance!). The book moves quite quickly, and since there is a lot to digest without any significant amount of time spent with one character or POV, it may all feel rushed. Yet, at the end of the reading, these are my key takeaways:
The book and show’s entertainment value came from two areas for me. The first is the relationships of the town’s citizens.
There are a lot of characters to get to know in this book. You have Ellie and Alec as the two lead detectives. They each have their own backstory, with Ellie having Joe and her sons involved in the plot; Alec has a brooding backstory but it doesn’t come up hot until later in the show. He does however bring baggage and journalist Karen. You also have the Latimer family (Mark, Beth, Chloe, Liz, and Danny). They are all part of the plot and have some sort of development as characters. Then you have the attractive Australian pub owner, Becca Fisher, and the creepy news agent, Jack Marshall. Oh, and don’t forget the cute and modern vicar Paul. The gambler Aunt (Ellie’s sister) and her son, Olly, the journalist, who works with Maggie at the Broadchurch Echo. There’s also Nigel, Mark’s best friend and co-worker, and his side story with the creepy misanthrope Susan. There’s a lot to cover here… but it all weaves together quite concisely in the end.
The second factor contributing to the value of this book’s entertainment value is the revelations and secrets that serve as sort of red herrings during the typical “small town” uncovering during the investigation of a high profile crime shtick. The best part in Broadchurch is how all of these secrets and revelations actually turn out to harm the pursuit of justice (see: second series, you won’t know that in the book). In the book’s view, the killer is found out not due to the revelation of all these secrets and twists, but rather due to the perpetrator just giving up the ruse. As a result it seems like all of this was done for a waste — so many lives were touched by the killer, some more than others in terms of harm…. but this, in my opinion, is an example of how a “happy ending” is not really happy in all cases. It’s just an ending, it’s the best you can get in this situation.
This novelization would not be as impactful if you didn’t know the show’s plot or ending before you read it. The value of this storyline is best exhibited through its media portrayal, with excellent acting from household names. Yet, if you are a fan of reading and a fan of reading interpretations of tv shows you like (some reviews I have seen are like me: I like to see what others see in the show, how they convey the same story I watched) then this will be a good read for you.
Book gets 3.5/4 stars. It’s good, but the tv show is better.
TV Show gets 5 stars for me for the first season. The rest is fine. I loved the courtroom drama, but the new characters not so much…
Content Warnings: Murder, death of child and related grief processes, PTSD, cursing, sexual references, inappropriate sexual relationships (adultery and adult-child). They say that there is not any sexual relationship between the killer and Danny, but there is grooming and inappropriate relations regardless. Suicide.