August 28 – September 3: “Discuss the best thriller novel adaptions into movies”

thriller-roundtable-logo5This week we’re joined by ITW Members Andrew Bourelle, Jonathan Ashley, J.D. Trafford, J. B. Manas, Glen Erik Hamilton, Charlie Flowers, Jon Land, Vivian Rhodes and Barry Ozeroff as we discuss books to movies. What are some of the best thriller adaptations into movies? Scroll down to the “comments” section to follow this eye-opening discussion!


Barry W. Ozeroff retired in 2014 after a 28-year career as a police officer, both in La Mesa, CA and Gresham, OR. During his police career, Barry spent 4 years as a school resource officer, 6 years as a traffic motorcycle officer and member of the Vehicular Crimes Team, 5 years as a SWAT sniper, and 12 years as a hostage negotiator. Barry, who was also a field training officer and public information officer, is the recipient of numerous citizen and supervisor commendations, the Oregon Peace Officer’s Lifesaving Award, and the Gresham Police Department Medal of Valor. Bad Apple is Barry’s 4th novel, following Sniper Shot, Return Fire, and The Dying of Mortimer Post. The sequel to Bad Apple, Relative Justice, is under contract and will be released sometime in 2018. Barry has 5 children and 4 grandchildren, and lives with his wife in the Pacific Northwest.


J. B. Manas is a Philadelphia-based author of fiction and nonfiction. He is the author of the new sci-fi thriller, ATTICUS, and co-author of The Kronos Interference, named to the “Best of 2012” by Kirkus Reviews, which gave the book a starred review, calling it “impressively original” and “[a] tour de force.” His nonfiction books (written as Jerry Manas) on leadership lessons from history, science, and the arts have been translated into eight languages and course-adopted in universities worldwide.


Charlie Flowers was born in Eastern Europe sometime in the late sixties and arrived with his family in Britain in 1975. After training as a journalist in London, he had a varied career as reporter, roadie, truck driver and record label boss. In the late nineties he formed two cult bands, and is currently an adviser on terrorism and extremism to certain departments and think tanks. Charlie Flowers is published by Endeavour Press, and is a member of the Crime Writers’ Association and International Thriller Writers.


Jon Land is the award-winning, USA Today bestselling author of 41 novels, including eight titles in the critically acclaimed Caitlin Strong series, the most recent of which is Strong Cold Dead. Most recently, he’s teamed with ThrillerMaster Heather Graham to pen The Rising, the first in a series that features two high school seniors who are that stands between the world and total annihilation. The next Caitlin Strong book, Strong to the Bone, publishes next December, followed by Blood Moon, a sequel to The Rising, in January.


Award-winning author J.D. Trafford, described as “a writer of merit” by Mystery Scene magazine, has topped numerous Amazon bestseller lists, including reaching #1 on the Legal Thrillers list. IndieReader selected his debut novel, No Time to Run, as a bestselling pick. Trafford graduated with honors from a top-twenty law school, and he has worked as a civil and criminal prosecutor, as an associate at a large national law firm, and as a nonprofit attorney. He’s handled issues of housing, education, and poverty in communities of color. Prior to law school, he worked in Washington, DC, and lived in Saint Louis, Missouri. He now lives with his wife and children in the Midwest, and he bikes whenever possible.


Glen Erik Hamilton’s debut Past Crimes won the Anthony, Macavity, and Strand Magazine Critics awards for Best First Novel, and was also nominated for the Edgar, Barry, and Nero awards. Publishers Weekly and Library Journal gave Past Crimes starred reviews, and Kirkus called the book “an exciting heir to the classic detective novel.” The follow-up in the Van Shaw series, Hard Cold Winter, was published to rave reviews in March by William Morrow (US) and Faber & Faber (UK). A native of Seattle, Glen grew up aboard a sailboat, finding trouble around the islands and commercial docks of the Pacific Northwest. He now lives in California but frequently returns to his hometown to soak up the rain.


Jonathan Ashley is the author of Out of Mercy and The Cost of Doing Business. His work has appeared in Crime Factory, Out of the Gutter, A Twist of Noir, LEO Weekly, Kentucky Magazine, and Yellow Mama. He lives in Lexington, KY.



Andrew Bourelle has published short stories widely in literary magazines and fiction anthologies, including THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES. He is the author of the novel HEAVY METAL and the coauthor, with James Patterson, of THE PRETENDER, a BookShot in Patterson’s new line of short thrillers.


Vivian Rhodes is a published mystery novelist and two time Emmy-nominated television writer. Her Lifetime movie, Stolen from the Womb airs frequently, most recently in May 2016. Her suspense thriller, IF YOU SHOULD READ THIS, MOTHER is due to be released in 2017 and her recently republished novel, GROOMED FOR MURDER, is being considered for a pilot for an online video service. Vivian lives in Los Angeles and writes about all things nostalgia- from film noir to vintage toys- on her blog, Rhodes Less Traveled.

  1. I’m going to start with an adaption of one of top all-time favorite thrillers: MARATHON MAN. William Goldman’s book is a true classic, a beautiful character study told in fantastic fashion by a storyteller at the top of his game. The movie adaptation didn’t quite match that but it remains a solid thriller that holds up pretty well today, given that it was made way back in the late 1970s. I miss the superior treatment the “Scylla” character received in the book but both the diamond district scene and, oh man, that dental torture scene (“Is it safe?”) are cinema, as well as literary, tour de forces. Thoughts, anyone?

      1. New rule: Don’t remake great thriller films. Witness THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE. The one exception might be MAN ON FIRE with Denzel Washington stepping in to the role created by Scott Glenn. Interesting that Denzel also stepped into the Walter Matthieu role in TAKING OF PELHAM, but I’ll stop there for obvious reasons if you’ve seen both films.

    1. Jon, I can’t believe I didn’t think of Marathon Man! While the book and film have their differences, both are superb. What Jaws did for swimming, Marathon Man did for dentists…

    2. “Is it safe?” Loved that line, and great film overall! I hadn’t actually read the book, but I did hear it was fairly well rendered. I’ll have to read the book for more of the depth you mentioned.

  2. For me, if I read a book after I’ve watched the movie version of it, I’m usually able to enjoy it. But if I read the book first, it usually spoils the movie for me. The film never lives up to my expectations. One exception is Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL. I read the book before seeing the movie, but I still found the movie compelling, layered, and wonderfully entertaining. I think the reason was that, on a scene-by-scene basis, the movie has a lot of differences from the book, yet, at the same time, it is one of the most faithful novel adaptations I can think of. As I watched it, I was able to appreciate the newness of the adaptation as well as its fidelity to the source material. The movie was so faithful to the characters, the tone, and the general feel of the book. A big part of the success of the adaptation probably has to do with the fact that Flynn adapted the screenplay herself, but director David Fincher deserves credit too. And the casting, especially the two leads, was spot on.

    1. I was going to mention Gone Girl as an excellent example. I thought the film was well done. I was wondering how they were going to pull off the unreliable narrator in the film.

      Two other “Girl” films I enjoyed were “Girl on a Train” and of course, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (though I especially enjoyed the Swedish film trilogy starring Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist).

      1. Yes, I wondered how they could pull off the unreliable narrator in GONE GIRL as well. It seemed like the movie would have to deviate from the book because of this, but, in the end, the film pulls it off quite well and remains faithful to the source material.

  3. The best film adaptations are rarely direct copies of the original novels — a page-turning pace might be deathly dull on the screen — but one of my favorite suspense films is remarkably faithful to its source. The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth is arguably the first modern thriller. The story of an unnamed assassin hired to kill French President Charles de Gaulle, both the novel and the film unfold in an almost documentary style that belies the increasing tension. We follow both sides of the conflict: the killer’s meticulous preparations for his one chance at the heavily guarded de Gaulle, and the beleaguered police detective who leads the search for a threat that his superiors doubt even exists. Time is running out for both. While history might spoil the ending, the outcome of their duel of wits is far from obvious. Over forty years after it was made, Fred Zinnemann’s film remains as cool and ruthless as the Jackal himself.

    1. It’s funny, as I’m reading down the comments here, everyone’s listing the exact films I was going to mention, “Marathon Man,” “Gone Girl,” and certainly “Day of the Jackal.” Zinnemann’s film was a classic. They did a supposed remake years later called “The Jackal” but it bore no resemblance to the Jackal story aside from the title.

      1. New rule: Don’t remake great thriller films. Witness THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE. The one exception might be MAN ON FIRE with Denzel Washington stepping in to the role created by Scott Glenn. Interesting that Denzel also stepped into the Walter Matthieu role in TAKING OF PELHAM, but I’ll stop there for obvious reasons if you’ve seen both films.

        1. Jon, both of the remakes you mention were directed by the late Tony Scott, a great thriller director. I put MAN ON FIRE as one of his best films and TAKING OF PELHAM 123 as, well, not one of his best films.

          Tony Scott always seemed to be a little overshadowed by his brother Ridley (ALIEN, BLADE RUNNER, GLADIATOR), but I always found his movies to be thrilling and entertaining. He had lots of collaborations with Denzel Washington. CRIMSON TIDE is a nice tense, claustrophobic thriller.

          I’m veering away from adaptations here ….

          1. I loved Tony’s work, starting with the absolutely brilliant TRUE ROMANCE, from a Quentin Tarantino screenplay. And I thought UNSTOPPABLE was terrific, 100 pulse pounding minutes and, yes, CRIMSON TIDE was as good as a film thriller gets.

      2. Chiming in with Jon on TAKING OF PELHAM. The first one is endlessly rewatchable. Somehow I’ve never gotten past the remake’s “improvement” of John Travolta being some sort of commodities trader using the hijack to break the market? Or something?

  4. I’ve always been partial to books such as Tom Clancy’s Clear and Present Danger or The Sum of All Fears being adapted to the big screen. Those books, and books like them have a lot at stake (a nuclear device in an American city or the lives of the narcotics interdiction team) and a critical timeline, which, when written well, make for a natural thrill ride. Clancy’s knack for pacing and style engage me and make me feel invested in the storyline, which what we as authors always try to achieve. Of course Tom Clancy has the resources and ability to delve into every facet of world politics, technical detail, and the inner workings of governmental agencies that I could only dream of having, and that makes his books all the more engaging to me. Given competent treatment, direction, and production, there’s virtually no way to ruin a screen adaptation of any one of his novels, though admittedly, I will almost always like the book better than the movie (a glaring exception to this is anything written by Thomas Harris—I do not like the way he writes, but you’d be hard pressed to show me a better thriller adaptation than Silence of the Lambs.)

    1. Hi Barry — I’m more of a fan of Harris’s writing than you are, but that might be because I think the books are closer to horror fiction than thrillers — with grandiose characters and fairly purple prose to match. I agree that the films (Manhunter and Silence, esp.) are superior at nail-biting suspense.

      1. Manhunter was brilliant, a terrific adaptation by Michael Mann at the top of his game. This compared to the awful Brett Rattner remake that used the original book title, RED DRAGON. William Peterson was a thousand times better than Edward Norton as Will Graham and Tom Noonan was terrific as Dohlarhyde, especially compared to Ray Fiennes who was barely passable. And there are plenty who believe Bryan Cox was the best Lecter ever, better even than Anthony Hopkins.

  5. Gone, Baby, Gone and The Town, both helmed by Ben Affleck who showed his true brilliant colors in his directorial of the former, ecclipse, any other novel adaptation to survive Hollywood ennui and ostentatiousness. Gone, adapted from the seminal private eye novel by the wholly decorous Dennis Lehane, exceeded my expectations by such lenghs I wound up seeing it three times in theaters
    From its teeth shattering realism, to its pacing as pitch perfect as a Pavarotti aria, the action choreography, depth, and the three dimensionality of the characters all combine to form a film that, in a just world unspoiled by nepotism and requisite mediocrity….

    1. GONE, BABY, GONE and THE TOWN are excellent movies. I should really read the books.

      Since you brought up Dennis Lehane, it made me think of the MYSTIC RIVER adaptation. I thought it was really interesting how the movie and book focus differently on the three main characters. In order of importance, the movie gives the most screen time to Jimmy (Sean Penn), Dave (Tim Robbins), and Sean (Kevin Bacon). The book is the opposite—Kevin Bacon’s character gets the most “screen time” in the book while Sean Penn’s character gets the least. While the plot stayed pretty much the same, the movie became more of a character study than a police procedural. I always wondered what kind of conversations went on with the filmmakers to make them decide to push the main character to the background while bringing a supporting character to the forefront.

      1. Andrew,
        I saw MYSTIC RIVER before reading the book and, to be honest, the ending only made sense and ceased to righteously anger me after I’d seen it in print and reviewed Lehane’s explanation of the character’s gestures at the parade. When the cop points at the ex-con with his finger and mimics shooting the killer, in the film, it kind of seems like the two are friendly, like Kevin Bacon is saying to Sean Penn, “I know you killed our friend and are basically a psychopathic scumbag, but we’re cool because we went to grade school together.” In the novel, however, Lehane explains what the cop is thinking. He’s deciding as he glares at the con that he is going to go to any lengths to take the regent crime boss down no matter how long it takes, regardless of the cost. He’s going to speak for his murdered school friend.
        Back to the other two Boston films and director Affleck who, in my opinion, may be the next Clint Eastwood, speaking of MYSTIC RIVER and actors successfully stepping behind the camera. Having read both GONE BABY GONE and THE TOWN before the films were even shot, I can say without hesitation that the right scenes were chosen to keep from the original text. While both novels end a little grimmer, the grit of the plot’s skeleton is effectively maintained in both cases. While Doug McCray in THE TOWN faces a more hopeful end at the film’s denouement, the thieving protagonist still pays dearly for his sins, losing the girl, watching all of his friends die, forced to reside in exile in backwoods small town Florida. However, in GONE, there is one plot thread I wish Affleck had woven from novel to film: the revelation that the Machiavellian cops have turned the abductions of abused and neglected children from their broken homes into a kind of underground railroad for orphans and children at risk whereas, in the final cut of the film, only Amanda is taken and the flashbacks clarify that this is the first crime the policemen have ever committed. I wish Affleck had attempted an ending that revealed a broader scope for the controversial crimes that leave the audience struggling to easily differentiate villain from hero. At the very least, Affleck effectively managed to leave film goers gratefully frustrated and, perhaps, a little more socially conscious and enlightened.

  6. So many excellent examples to choose from. One of the greatest book-to-film adaptations for me was Jonathan Demme’s “Silence of the Lambs,” where Anthony Hopkins took the Hannibal Lecter character to a whole new level. I also enjoyed the French thriller “Tell No One,” based on Harlan Coben’s book of the same name. That’s what first turned me onto Coben’s books, and I’ve been a fan ever since. I’d love to see more of his books made into films.

    I think “The Lincoln Lawyer” was done very well, and I loved David Fincher’s “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” as well as the Swedish film trilogy. Aside from that, the ones others have mentioned here are all great films, as is “Girl on a Train.”

    Perhaps my favorite film adaptation was “The Shawshank Redemption,” based on a novella, no less.

    1. I’m glad you mentioned THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION. Two of my all-time favorites. Both pull off the rare feat of being better than their source material. As much as I enjoyed the books, I think the movies are better. There’s more depth to the characters, and the stories are more emotionally powerful.

    2. TELL NO ONE was a great adaptation — I saw the French film before reading the book, and was impressed by how they took most of Coben’s characters and plot, Gallified them (is that a word?), and reworked a couple of the hitches (like the ending, where the hero has little to do with his own rescue) for the better.

  7. I loved the “Hunt for Red October,” but as a guy who writes legal thrillers, I owe an enormous debt to Tom Cruise and the adaptation of John Grisham’s “The Firm” as well as Harrison Ford and the adaptation of Scott Turow’s “Presumed Innocent” for creating/expanding the audience for thrillers rooted in a courtroom and not necessarily a bomb in a briefcase.

      1. The Rainmaker is great, but now a time capsule of life before Obamacare…same with Runaway Jury, remember when people smoked. I still have a soft spot for Julia Roberts in Pelican Brief.

  8. Do TV series adaptations count here? Le Carre’s The Night Manager was a terrific mini series updated and approved by Le Carre. I much preferred the ending of the series to the ending of the book which seemed to me to fizzle out. Hugh Laurie is superb in it.

  9. I’m going to be controversial here and say that I think the two Jack Reacher film adaptations got the ethos of the books and the gist of the character very well. And yes, Cruise is film Reacher, not the freak-of-nature book Reacher.

    1. Hi Charlie. I thought the first JACK REACHER film was quite good, and, as you said, it got the ethos of the books and gist of the character. It never bothered me that Tom Cruise played Reacher. Plenty of characters in movies don’t match the physical description of the actors who portrayed them. The movie certainly captures Reacher’s unstoppable mercilessness, which, to me, was more important than his height.

      1. Hi Andrew! Yes, it captured his world-weariness and (when pushed) total brutality. I actually liked the second film more as it used New Orleans as a backdrop and had Reacher “trying to do emotion” at the end!

  10. Wow, all great choices and I would say to Elisabeth; yes, by all means television should count! I haven’t seen THE NIGHT MANAGER but have heard great things and wasn’t that the show that got the talk started of casting Tom Hiddleson as James Bond? Speaking of James Bond, we’d all be remiss not to mention those fantastic early, way ahead of their time films, that starred Sean Connery (the only Bond, in my mind!). People forget how faithful those early adaptations were for the most part, right up through THUNDERBALL. Going back a bit further, let me add SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, based on the Fletcher Knebble thriller by the same name and made into what it is arguably the greatest political thriller of all time . . . unless you count THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, based on the terrific James Grady book SIX DAYS OF THE CONDOR. And wasn’t THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE based on a book?

  11. I’d also like to agree with Charlie that, especially in the first film, Tom Cruise did a great job of capturing Jack Reacher’s mindset and sensibility, though obviously not his size. Interesting that ITW’s own Lee Child was a big supporter of Tom’s right from the beginning, in stark contrast to how Anne Rice responded when he was cast as Lestat or Clancy felt when Harrison Ford was cast as Jack Ryan. In my mind, the supreme example of this was Clive Cussler who famously said he’d never set foot in Hollywood again after Richard Jordan (who?) was cast as Dirk Pitt in RAISE THE TITANIC. So what does he do? Sells SAHARA to Disney which proceeded to cast Matthew McCaonaughey as Pitt with equally disastrous results. Cussler sued Disney and ended up losing the case and around $10 million when he was forced to pay the studio’s legal fees. Go figure.

    1. Totally agree re Sahara. What an incredible disappointment! I was such a Dirk Pitt fan but even though I really like Matthew M as an actor I couldn’t imagine he’d work in the role even before I saw the movie. And the less said about the casting of Al Giordino the better.

      1. Cruise was great as Lestat- just utterly evil but with that mesmeric quality. He attracts and repulses at the same time. Brad Pitt on the other hand was a bit of a drip…

  12. And as long as I’ve got the floor, here’s my choice for most underrated thriller adaptation: BLACK SUNDAY, featuring a terrorist attack on the Super Bowl thirty years before 9/11. Thomas Harris, of all people, wrote the terrific book and Robert Shaw killed it in the role of the hero Kabacoff. And oh that final half hour themed perfectly to a score by none other than John Williams. Also on my underrated list: THE FURY, one of Brian DePalma’s best films ever adapted from John Farris’ greatest novel ever. Okay, I’ll shut up now so others can talk!

      1. Great Call, Glen! And it’s also one of the great cop movies of all time. Way ahead of its time and holds up pretty well to this day as Sinatra’s character throws his career away to pursue a politically charged murder investigation.

    1. Is NOTHING LASTS FOREVER a good book? I’ve always loved DIE HARD. To me, it’s the perfect action movie. I’ve often wondered about the book that it’s based on.

      I’m getting so many good ideas of books I need to read from this panel!

    2. Great call, Charlie! And here’s a fun fact: Because Sinatra had played the same character in THE DETECTIVE, Joe Leland, he had right of first refusal to play him again in DIE HARD. He was obviously too old and too feeble, but he was indeed offered the role. And did you know that DIRTY HARRY was originally written for Sinatra as well? Again, he was too sick to play the role by the time it was time to shoot and the script went to Clint Eastwood who commissioned an uncredited rewrite by John Milius who basically wrote the entire movie as it appears now.

  13. This one might be more “mystery” than “thriller” but as one of the books that got me into writing, I have to mention “GORKY PARK”. A very challenging book to adapt, with its Moscow locations, complicated politics, and ambiguous character motives. I appreciated how the Michael Apted film captured the bleak surroundings and the beating heart of the story – Renko and Irina’s growing attraction and trust, despite themselves. Extra points for the late-career performance by Lee Marvin as the smoothly decadent American, using hopes of a life in the West as bait for a darker scheme.

    1. Another great call, Glen! The film featured a great performance by William Hurt as Renko and, I think, it marked Lee Marvin’s last appearance in film.

  14. There are a couple adaptations coming out later this year that I’m eager to see: IT by Stephen King and THE SNOWMAN by Jo Nesbo. The trailers for the films gave me the chills.

  15. So here’s a question for everyone: what book would you like to see adapted into a film that hasn’t been yet?

    My vote would be GUTSHOT STRAIGHT by Lou Berney. Berney has a background as a screenwriter, so his prose seems tailor-made for adapting to film. GUTSHOT STRAIGHT is a fast-paced story about a getaway driver on the run from various quirky Elmore Leonard-esque bad guys. There are great characters, lots of sharp, witty dialogue, and an unusual love story. The sequel, WHIPLASH RIVER, would be a good film too, but let’s start with the first book, Hollywood!

    1. Andrew, you mean besides my own? Ha-ha! Wow, that’s a tough question. Maybe Nelson DeMille’s John Corey thrillers. Or, better yet, James W. Hall’s brilliant Thorn books. Brooding thrillers reminiscent of John D. McDonald’s great Travis Magee novels. Speaking of which, it’s TRIVIA TIME!!!! Without using Google or Siri, who can tell me the name of the only actor to play Travis Magee on the big screen. Bonus question: The film in question features one of the greatest movie fight scenes ever. What actor did the actor playing Travis Magee fight? Here’s a hint: RMPM.

          1. Glen: Wow, now I’m impressed. Great call! Bill Smith is in his 80s now and still looks like he could mix it up with anyone. I’ve never forgiven him for killing Nick Nolte in Rich Man, Poor Man when he brilliantly played the heavy Falconetti.

    2. I’m a big fan of Lou Berney’s work, and i’d love to see his lead character Shake in a TV series. He has another colorful characters to fill a couple of seasons, easily.

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