Casting Call for Agatha Best First Novel Nominees

We invited this year’s nominees for the Agatha Best First Novel award to fantasize about what film or TV stars they’d cast in their mysteries should Hollywood come calling.

TESSA ARLEN: Aha, I have already done this exercise with the wonderful Marshal Zeringue over a year ago. It is such a great question. So, for Clementine Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Montfort -my amateur sleuth, who  is about forty-two years old, an absolute sweetheart but certainly no fool, I would probably go for Emma Thompson. Thompson can bring a very lighthearted and playful side to the characters she portrays and at the same time put across that rather thoughtful reserve the English sometimes fall back on when they are unsure about something (Thompson in Sense and Sensibility), but most of all Thompson is a warm and self-aware rather than cool individual which is Clementine to a ‘T’.

For Mrs. Edith Jackson, Clementine’s housekeeper and her assistant sleuth, is about thirty five and with elegant good looks. So, I would choose Nicole Kidman as she was in The Railway Man – Kidman played that quiet and understated role with tremendous subtlety, which would be perfect for the very circumspect Mrs. Jackson. As Kidman ages I think she looks wonderful and she has the wonderful quality of stillness that would be just right for Mrs. Jackson.

Now for the villain of the piece! Hands down I choose the young Jude Law to play the degenerate Teddy Mallory.

With his beautifully shaped head, those clear English-gray eyes and that compelling boyish charm  Law would be the perfect Mallory, just the way he was in The Talented Mr. Ripley. Do you remember how he played the charismatic and truly unpleasant Dickie Greenleaf? I felt far greater dislike for him than the true villain; there was a nastiness to Jude Law’s Dickie Greenleaf that made him the perfect sociopath!

ELLEN BYRON:  Anne Hathaway would be my first choice for Maggie Crozat.


She’s the right age and offers a perfect mix of self-effacing humor, insecurity and ballsiness. She’d have to shrink four inches and wear colored contacts – Maggie Crozat’s 5’4” and has hazel eyes. Or Maggie will have to grow four inches and get brown eyes. Or people will just not care that they don’t match up perfectly in the physical sense. Man, talk about high-class problems! As to Maggie’s beloved Grandmere, my first choice is the incomparable Blythe Danner, although she’d kill me for casting her as an eightysomething. Sorry, Blythe, but you’re soooo perfect for the role!

Now when it comes to Bo Durand, the hot, slightly mysterious new detective in town, I’ve gone back and forth in my daydream casting. And then I realized that the answer might be right in front of me on Sunday nights at 8 p.m. My daughter and I are total Once Upon a Time fangirls and share a crush on Hook, aka/ Guyliner. (Um… that sharing a crush thing a little creepy?) He’s much more of a bad boy than Bo is – Tommy Lee Jones is more of a match personality-wise – but Hook is also sensitive, smart and would die for his woman. And the actor who plays him, Colin O’Donogue, himself is to-die-for cute.

Of course, Bo has dark eyes and Colin has killer baby blues. But again… high-class problems!

JULIANNE HOLMES: This is such a fun exercise. The only actor I’ve thought about was Robert Redford for Ben…

but coming up with other ideas for the people who live in my head–a little tricky. You’ll need a time machine to get this cast in one place at the right age, but here I go. Katharine Hepburn (Philadelphia Story Hepburn) for Ruth. Robert Redford at the All the President’s Men age for Ben. Brian Dennehy for Pat Reed. Sandra Bullock for Moira. Micole Mecurio as Nancy Reed. Marian Seldes but shorter for Caroline Adler.

CINDY BROWN: Zooey Deschanel would be great as my protagonist Ivy Meadows (née Olive Ziegwart). She has Ivy’s quirky, optimistic, slightly-ditzy-but-also-smart persona down flat. Zooey’s even a blonde in real life (Ivy is blonde, though the color isn’t natural and she has a tough time keeping her roots touched up).

I see John Goodman as Uncle Bob, whom Ivy describes this way: “My uncle is, in fact, a pretty good actor. Not on the stage, not his style. But he’s got the innocent friendly thing down. I call it his Santa Clause act, ’cause he seems like a jolly fat guy who’ll buy you beer for presents. Don’t get me wrong: he is a jolly fat guy, but a shrewd one, too.” See? Wouldn’t John Goodman nail that?

ART TAYLOR: I have to admit I’m not very good at this and not entirely comfortable with it—though I recognize what a good and interesting question it is, and certainly wouldn’t all of us want to have Hollywood come knocking, a casting director in tow asking our opinion for the big deal? And yet….

Back when Henery Press was working on the cover for On the Road with Del & Louise, the central panel of the initial design showed Del and Louise themselves sitting in the front seat of the car and facing out—faces!—and I panicked. That wasn’t what they looked like, was it? It wasn’t what I’d pictured—not what I wanted readers to be going into the book thinking about. But what had I pictured? And who did I want them thinking of? Really, I wanted to keep those images fairly nebulous, let the reader conjure up his or her own picture of the title characters.

Still, I’m willing to play along, so…. To my mind, Del has always seemed more burly than simply muscular and not traditionally good-looking, with some mix of aloofness and quirkiness, unpredictability and utter seriousness—and maybe the closest I’d get to someone like that would be Zach Galifianakis, who can carry the straight man role like nobody’s business. Plus he has a beard.

Louise is tougher, mainly because of her age, late twenties edging toward her thirties. My first thought would be Julia Roberts…


who’s also from the South and could easily carry that mix of brassy attitude and vulnerability that I think is core to who Louise is—but maybe a younger Julia Roberts? Barring some time-warp filming, maybe I’d go with Emma Roberts, who certainly carries the look I’d imagine as well—if only she could draw more on that Southern side of her roots, right?


But the age difference between Galifianakis and Roberts seems off, so…. (You can see why I’m not good at this.)


Tessa Arlen, the daughter of a British diplomat, had lived in or visited her parents in Singapore, Cairo, Berlin, the Persian Gulf, Beijing, Delhi and Warsaw by the time she was sixteen. Tessa’s first novel is Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman. She lives with her family on an island in the Puget Sound.

Cindy Brown is a theater geek, mystery lover, and award-winning writer who recently combined her passions to produce madcap mysteries set in the off, off, off Broadway world of theater. Her books star Ivy Meadows, actress and part-time PI, and are published by Henery Press. They include Macdeath, The Sound of Murder (3rd place in the 2013 international Words With Jam First Page Competition, judged by Sue Grafton), and Oliver Twisted (coming June 2016). Check out Cindy’s slightly silly look at mystery, writing, and drama at

Ellen Byron’s debut novel, Plantation Shudders, was nominated for a Best Humorous Mystery Lefty Award, as well as being chosen by the Library Journal as a Debut Mystery of the Month. Body on the Bayou, the second in Ellen’s Cajun Country Mystery series, launches in September. Her television credits include Wings, Just Shoot Me and Still Standing, as well as pilots for most of the major networks; she’s written over 200 magazine articles; her published plays include the award-winning Graceland and Asleep on the Wind. Ellen is a recipient of a William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant for mystery writers.

Julianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime. The first in the series, Just Killing Time, debuted in October. Clock and Dagger comes out in August. As J.A. Hennrikus, she has short stories in three Level Best anthologies, Thin Ice, Dead Calm and Blood Moon. She is on the board of Sisters in Crime, and Sisters in Crime New England and is a member of MWA. She blogs with the Wicked Cozy Authors.  @JulieHennrikus

Art Taylor is the author of On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories. He has won two Agatha Awards, the Anthony Award, the Macavity Award, and three consecutive Derringer Awards for his short fiction, and a selection from On the Road with Del & Louise was chosen for the forthcoming Best American Mystery Stories anthology. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University, and he contributes frequently to the Washington Post, the Washington Independent Review of Books, and Mystery Scene Magazine.

11 thoughts on “Casting Call for Agatha Best First Novel Nominees

  1. Thanks for a super-fun post from our esteemed nominees! You all did a great job as casting directors (had NO idea Zoey was blonde). Best of luck to everyone, see you at Malice, and come back soon!

    Liked by 1 person

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