On the Scene 8/9: Luke Jennings murders his own creation ‘Killing Eve’

When it comes to a preference of the book or on-screen adaptation, I have always chosen the page over the screen. From well-known page turners such as “Harry Potter,” “Game of Thrones” and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” to some lesser-known titles like “Patrick Melrose,” “The Dark Tower” or any other Stephen King novel/series that has yet to join its on-screen counterparts – it has never mattered to me, I have always felt the book is always better.

Until last week.

Luke Jennings’ “Codename Villanelle” has to be one of the most poorly written things that has ever been published in the history of the written word.

After forcing myself to get through 217 pages of pure boredom, I went in search of the clay tablets used in 3rd millennium B.C.E. to originally scribe the Sumerian words of the Mesopotamians as a way to interest my mind because I figured the initial effort of written language had to be somewhat better than Jennings’ description of what goes on inside of a fictional character’s head.

Though, we can thank Phoebe Waller-Bridge, actress, producer and writer, who successfully managed to adapt Jennings’ “Codename Villanelle” for BBC America and create the Emmy Award-nominated series “Killing Eve.”

“Killing Eve,” which stars Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer, is about MI5 agent Eve Polastri (Oh), who gets assigned the covert operation of tracking down international assassin Villanelle (Comer). Through a game of global cat-and-mouse the two become more interested in each other in more ways than one.

The series, which just concluded its second season this past May, has already been signed for a third season after its second garnered nine Emmy Award nominations for only eight episodes. All nine are well deserved after Waller-Bridge surmounted the incredible task of turning on on-page tragedy into an on-screen success.

“Codename Villanelle” was published as a series of four small novellas spanning from February 2014 through June 2016. Each about 50 pages, the novellas were re-released in book form in its entirety after Jennings felt that he should continue writing the series to follow the television series after the on-screen version of his story made waves.

Now, readers have the unfortunate opportunity to read (dread?) “No Tomorrow,” the second book in Jennings’ series – the title of which comes from how you will not see the next day after trying to get through the next book, which I found just as awful as his first.

I assumed that Jennings had a military background because when reading both of the books, everything is described more in a technical way rather than articulately. We get more description of how each weapon is loaded than what a character looks like or is feeling in that moment.

But, after doing a small amount of research on Jennings, it turns out the man is a former dancer and London-based author. It’s a good thing Waller-Bridge was able to turn his story into something worthwhile, because without her, his name would mean nothing to me, or at least less than what it’s worth now.

“Killing Eve” is almost an entirely different story than Jennings’ “Codename Villanelle,” and we have Waller-Bridge to thank for that. Changing almost everything other than the main overall story and some of the main characters, Waller-Bridge made this series into not only something binge-worthy, but something that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats for the entire 45-minute episode.

A show that brings a fast-paced story with brilliant and witty dialogue from characters who are all too good looking for their own good, tops itself with the amount of action and thinking that goes on in your head while watching event after event unfold.

Viewers will never know what will come next when watching the series because the way it’s written is so unpredictably delightful that you just keep watching and guessing at what will be around the next corner.

I hope that I will never have to change a stance again, but unfortunately, I will never be able to say: The book is always better.

Ken Downey Jr. is the Managing Editor for Time OFF and Packet Media, LLC. This is a part of his series of weekly columns focusing on arts and entertainment. He can be contacted at kdowney@newspapermediagroup.com.