You Saw It On "Masterpiece"

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You Saw It On "Masterpiece"

The public television series Masterpiece delivers both original shows and literary adaptations to PBS on a regular basis, and, arguably, those shows are some of the most quality programming you can find: compelling acting, excellent writing, sensuous costuming, and lush scenes of the British countryside. Nobody does rolling hillsides like Masterpiece does! Check out the literary origins of these particular shows, which are even better – hard to believe, right? – than their television counterparts.

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel. Masterpiece show of the same name.

The series, starring Oscar winner Sir Mark Rylance, is based on the eponymous first book of Mantel's planned trilogy. Thomas Cromwell (Rylance) is Henry VIII's right-hand man, doing the King's dirty work and being paid handsomely for the privilege. But remember, King Henry is a rather fickle man – this is the guy who went through six wives, after all – and being in the King's favor doesn't always last. (The first two books, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, have each won the Man Booker Prize. The third book, as yet unreleased, is expected to be titled The Mirror and the Light and to follow in the award-winning footsteps of its two predecessors.)

Shopping, Seduction, and Mr. Selfridge, by Lindy Woodhead. Masterpiece show: Mr. Selfridge.

Most people don't know that the man behind London's, and the world's, first modern department store – one that made shopping a leisurely activity by catering to browsing customers – was actually American. Harry Gordon Selfridge made his fortune by starting off at Marshall Field's in Chicago, then taking what he'd learned there and bringing it to London. He opened his own store in 1909, and it's still going strong today. The Masterpiece show stars Entourage's Jeremy Piven as the charismatic and brilliant title character.

The Complete Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Masterpiece show: Sherlock.

Come on, you've read at least one of the stories, in high school English or in college, probably: "The Five Orange Pips," "The Hound of the Baskervilles," or "The Red-Headed League." The world's greatest-known detective (don't even argue, he is, and that's that) has been part of mainstream culture since his debut in 1887, and Steven Moffat's Masterpiece creation mixes pieces and tropes of the classic stories with the twist of modern-day technology and conveniences. The game is afoot!

Death Comes to Pemberley, by P.D. James. Masterpiece show of the same name.

There is always another sequel being written, sometime, somewhere, to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Happily, Death Comes to Pemberley is one of the good ones. Youngest Bennet sister and human tornado Lydia descends on Mr. and Mrs. Darcy in a panic; loathsome Wickham is dead, and not just dead, murdered (gasp)! Let's be real – who didn't want to murder Wickham after reading P&P? Austen fans will be delighted with Masterpiece's continuation of the classic story, the casting, and the characters.

Lady Almina and the real Downton Abbey: the Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle, by Fiona, Countess of Carnarvon. Masterpiece show: Downton Abbey.

The Eighth and current Countess of Carnarvon has written about the Fifth Countess, the fictional Lady Cora Crawley's counterpart, and the timeline directly paralleling the smash hit show: the hospital atmosphere when Highclere Castle was used to house the wounded during World War I. The Countess used primary sources found at the Castle - letters, diaries, and so on - to depict the rich life presented in the Masterpiece show. (Fun fact: Lady Almina's husband was the Earl of Carnarvon who was instrumental in discovering King Tut's tomb with Howard Carter in 1922.) This book is a must-read for any Downton Abbey fans.

Sidetracked, by Henning Mankell. Masterpiece show: Wallander.

Whether it's the cold climate or the bleak colors, Swedish mysteries are always so much more frightening than ones from other countries, aren't they? Add the inscrutable face of Sir Kenneth Branagh as Detective Kurt Wallander, and you've got yourself quite a series. What makes this particular mystery so creepy is that it's told not just from Wallander's perspective, but from the criminal's, too. Sidetracked won Sweden's 1997 award for Best Crime Novel of the year. The BBC for Masterpiece's handling of the material is skillful and spooky.