PRIVATE eyes may traditionally come hard boiled, but there is a soft centre — if not soft brain — to the gumshoe hero of The Falcon’s Malteser.
No, that is not a misprint.
Anthony Horowitz’s comic novel may play on the title of Dashiell Hammett’s archetypal PI novel The Maltese Falcon and the Humphrey Bogart film it inspired, but since its publication in 1986, it has become something of classic itself.
Along with entertaining generations of young readers, it also inspired a film version — although rights issues forced a title change to Just Ask For Diamond.
Now the story of bumbling private eye Tim Diamond and much smarter kid brother Nick comes to the stage in an adaptation by English company New Old Friends.
Company co-founder and artistic director Feargus Woods Dunlop read the book as a youngster himself, but read it again when he used it as the basis for a summer school drama project at the Theatre Royal in Bath.
"I read it and it was hilarious," he said.
So hilarious that he quickly suggested to his wife and company manager Heather Westwell that they should create their own stage version.
However, the very sense of humour that drew them to the book in the first place made things slightly difficult when it came to adapting the book for the stage.
"Because the book’s so funny, we tried to keep everything in, including all the jokes, and ended up with a show that was two-and-a-half hours long," Dunlop said.
The book’s author, Anthony Horowitz came to their rescue. As the writer of many episodes of Agatha Christie’s Poirot for ITV, Horowitz knows a lot about adapting novels into another medium himself.
These days he is better known for his original work, including creating the World War II detective series Foyle’s War and his hit novels about teenage spy Alex Rider. More recently he brought both Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis Professor Moriarty back to life in two bestselling novels and is now working on a new novel featuring an equally iconic British hero.
"He told us he wouldn’t be around much when we were on tour because of this secret project he couldn’t tell us about," Dunlop said.
"It now transpires that he’s writing the new James Bond novel. He’s a very busy man and each time we met him it felt like an honour."
The fast-paced show keeps its cast busy with four actors playing some 20 characters, although Dunlop acknowledges he has it relatively easy as he plays only Tim.
"Tim’s the first to admit he’s not the sharpest — except he wouldn’t be the first because he doesn’t think that fast," Dunlop explained.
Fortunately, making up for Tim’s mental slowness is his sharp witted 13-year old brother Nick, played by Tom Medcalf.
"We just plays those two roles because it’s important for the audience to identify with them," Dunlop said.
"Heather and Dan Winter play a huge amount of different roles. There’s even a bit where one character plays another character in the story.
"We have tried not to lose the major characters — in the book there are a pair of German hitmen called Gott and Himmell. He only have Gott, but Himmell is his gun and he talks to it, so we’ve done it that way."
This might be just the first stage adventure for the Diamond Brothers, however.
After all, Horowitz wrote several more stories about the young detectives.
"It’s something we would like to do," Dunlop acknowledged.
"One of the books, The French Confection, is set in France, with loads of French characters. It’s always fun to do silly voices!"
• The Falcon’s Malteser, based on the book by Anthony Horowitz and adapted by New Old Friends Theatre Company, is at the OneTouch Theatre, Eden Court, at 7pm on Saturday and 3pm on Sunday.