The Bone Collector

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TV series based on mystery novel debuts this week

By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

When New York Times best-selling novelist Jeffery Deaver created Lincoln Rhyme, the quadriplegic protagonist of his 1997 mystery-thriller “The Bone Collector,” he was supposed to be a one-and-done character.

“My original concept was that he would go through with assisted suicide — a subplot running through the book. That was in my outline. But when I was writing the book itself, I realized readers would be displeased. And my goal is always to keep my audience happy. (It’s a) good thing I kept him alive,” explained Deaver, an alumnus of the University of Missouri and the Fordham University School of Law.

To date, Rhyme has starred in 15 novels and several short-stories, the most recent being 2018’s “The Cutting Edge.” In 1999, Oscar winner Denzel Washington (“Training Day”) played Rhyme in “The Bone Collector,” co-starring Oscar winner Angelina Jolie (“Girl Interrupted”) as Officer Amelia Sachs (Amelia Donaghy in the movie) of the NYPD.

On Jan. 10, “Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for The Bone Collector” debuts on NBC. The TV series stars Russell Hornsby (“Grimm”) as Rhyme, Arielle Kebbel (“The Vampire Diaries”) as Sachs, and Michael Imperioli (“The Sopranos,” “Detroit 1-8-7”) as Det. Sellitto.

Hornsby didn’t ask Washington, his co-star from 2016’s “Fences,” about playing Rhyme.

“I think (Washington) would’ve said ‘congratulations’ honestly and to do the role — it’s not his anymore. I’m here to honor the Lincoln Rhyme that was on the page in the novels, not whatever Lincoln Rhyme was present in the film. That’s what I’m looking to do,” said Hornsby.

The plot of the TV series follows the book: Rhyme, a brilliant detective — if not the NYPD’s best — is seriously injured in the line of duty, rendering him paralyzed. Subsequently, he loses the will to live. However, when Sachs, a rookie cop, discovers a corpse on the railroad tracks, she stops a train to preserve the crime scene. The NYPD consults Rhyme, who’s reinvigorated by this case and impressed by Sachs’ forensic instincts. She becomes his eyes and ears in the field. Their first case is hunting “The Bone Collector,” a cunning serial killer.

“My character’s very pushy, stubborn, and cynical — and so is she, so we’re doing this dance. That’s the challenge, but also the joy and the fun of it,” said Hornsby. “Lincoln thinks he has all the answers. The challenges of being unable to move, he doesn’t realize how that affects him mentally. He begins to see that once he starts working with Amelia.”

The underlying theme throughout the series is “the broken take better care of the broken,” according to Hornsby, Kebbel, as well as executive producers Mark Bianculli and Peter Traugott.

The creators noted “The Bone Collector” story arc will be finished by the end of the first season. They’ve mined Deaver’s books for subplots and B-stories for the 10 episodes comprising the first season.

“(That) doesn’t mean ‘The Bone Collector’ will go away. We will finish the story, but he may still be around,” hinted Traugott.

What the TV series has in common with the movie is that Rhyme is African-American. In the books, however, he’s Caucasian.

“Yes, he is Caucasian in the books, though I never refer explicitly to race,” explained Deaver. “The curious thing about the character of Lincoln Rhyme is that because of his injury, he is essentially pure mind — he exists independent of his physical attributes, so issues of his race, culture, national origins, etc. take second place to his Sherlockian thought processes.”

“I think having an African-American actor is a good thing, but the primary driver was who was the best actor for the role, and we’re really lucky to have (Hornsby),” said Traugott. “Russell’s the best actor for the job, honestly ... I was just talking about his presence, his commanding voice, and how he can emote. He has the ability to show so much without physically having to move ... he can covey so much information with so little movement.”

Hornsby also offered his insight about Rhyme’s race.

“For me, I think the reason why (he was African-American in the movie) was Denzel. (He’s) a great actor, he’s someone who’s marketable ... and everybody goes to a Denzel film,” he said. “If you’d have made the character white, you’ve had ‘Sherlock,’ you’ve had ‘Elementary.’ It would be ‘Here’s another white guy playing another detective that’s brilliant’ – that’s not anything new. I think when you keep it as a minority or a person of color, it adds just another element and something else that we can find interesting and another element that brings audiences in. We have to diversify the portfolio of television to keep audiences interested.”

In the books, Rhyme and Sachs eventually become lovers. Hornsby doesn’t see the show heading in that direction.

“I don’t think so,” said Hornsby. “I think it’s more of an interesting dynamic to keep things as they are – master and apprentice, if you will. There’s so many stories and angles that you can probe with just that dynamic and not having to complicate it with a lovers theme.”

To research their roles, both Hornsby and Kebbel read Deaver’s books. In fact, Kebbel marked up her copy of “The Bone Collector” with notes. It also gave her an excuse to re-watch the movie.

Imperioli didn’t read the books nor see the movie. He likened the three main characters to musicians.

“To me, Lincoln Rhyme is the Mozart of detectives. He’s a prodigy that comes along once every 200 years. Sellitto’s like Bruce Springsteen — he’s working class, blue collar, streetwise, old school. Amelia’s like Billie Holiday — that kind of wounded soul,” he said. “To me, Sellitto’s a tribute to the NYPD, which I consider the greatest crime-fighting force in the world. I’m very proud to represent them. I love playing detectives, especially New York City detectives.”

While Deaver has offered insight into the TV series, he’s not involved in it; he’s hard at work writing his next two books (one featuring Rhyme and the other featuring tracker Colter Shaw, a University of Michigan alumnus).

“That NBC picked up (‘The Bone Collector’) was a huge — and delightful — surprise,” he said. “After all, this was the network that brought us ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ and dozen of my other favorite shows over the years.”

Deaver has high praise for the cast.

“I was familiar with Russell from ‘The Hate You Give’ and ‘Grimm’ and, of course, Michael from ‘The Sopranos’ – Chris (Moltisanti) was one of the most complex, believable, and frightening characters on the show. They are both top-notch actors,” said Deaver. “I was not extremely familiar with Arielle at the time, but she is the exact image I had in mind for Amelia when I wrote the book, though I recall her character in ‘Fifty Shades Freed’ and then I went back and saw her wonderful performances in ‘Midnight, Texas’ and ‘Ballers.’ It’s a great cast.”

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