More than 30 years after fictional detective J.W. Jackson solved his first Martha’s Vineyard murder, the novel in which he made his 1989 debut is coming to the small screen as a Hallmark movie.

A Beautiful Place to Die: A Martha’s Vineyard Mystery premieres Jan. 12 on all three of the network’s cable television outlets: Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries and Hallmark Drama.

Created by the late Edgartown novelist Philip R. Craig, the character of J.W. “Jeff” Jackson appeared in 19 books, all mysteries set on the Vineyard.

“People reached out over the years to try to option the novels for some type of adaptation, but it never seemed to be a very good fit,” said Jamie Craig, an Edgartown police sergeant and the author’s son.

Then, two years ago, he was contacted by an independent film producer working exclusively for Hallmark. The network was achieving success with woman-led mystery series such as the Aurora Teagarden stories by Charlaine Harris, 12 of which have been adapted for Hallmark movies since 2015 by the same independent production company, Muse.

Now Muse wanted to reach even more of Hallmark’s overwhelmingly female viewers with a male protagonist, and JW Jackson — the ex-Boston cop whose return to Martha’s Vineyard had him solving murders all over the Island — was the chosen sleuth.

The company already had a star, Jesse Metcalfe, who was not only an established Hallmark draw — you might have seen him in last year’s Christmas Under the Stars or the network’s series Chesapeake Shore — but a fan of the Philip R. Craig mysteries as well.

With Mr. Metcalfe on board and Mr. Craig agreeing to option the novel rights, Hallmark gave the green light to proceed with adaptations of two books.

If A Beautiful Place to Die does well in ratings, the network is likely to air the second film and option up to 17 more stories, Mr. Craig said.

“I think the series will grow over time,” he said. “They’re getting their feet wet.”

Mr. Craig himself is no stranger to the world of movie making. He earned a bachelor’s degree in film and television production from the Rochester Institute of Technology and worked in Hollywood as an editor, before joining the Navy. Later, through a Writer’s Guild program for veterans, he studied screenwriting with Emmy Award-winning writers.

His experience gave him credibility with the film’s producers, who consulted with him extensively. “We spent a long time negotiating how it was going to work,” he said. “They have their model and they don’t mess with it very much.”

One of the production challenges, Mr. Craig said, was to convert Jeff Jackson’s strictly first-person narrative into film storytelling.

“Translating that into a visual medium is not an easy task at all,” he said.

While A Beautiful Place to Die is sprinkled with authentic Martha’s Vineyard scenery, such as aerial shots of Edgartown, the Big Bridge and other iconic Island views, all of the principal filmmaking took place in British Columbia.

“You have to film this in Canada,” Mr. Craig said. “It would be economic suicide to try and film on the Vineyard.”

To make up for the distant location, he provided Muse with numerous snapshots of Island scenes and insisted a production team visit the Vineyard to film the “B-roll” footage and absorb the local look.

“‘You cannot have nothing,’” he recalled telling the producers. “‘If you have no picture of the Edgartown Lighthouse in your movie, people are going to grumble.’”

Evidence of the film team’s research can be spotted in scenes like a gala at the unnamed yacht club, where colorful burgees hang in the background looking much like the private signals on display in the Edgartown Yacht Club dining room.

Other sightings include an exterior of Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, digitally renamed Royal Fern Hospital. The name change was for legal purposes, Mr. Craig said, and for the same reason a yearbook that figures in the plot is from the non-existent Vineyard Haven High School.

The Vineyard of the film, however, has just one town, with one police department, and the character of the police chief’s daughter Zee Madieras, a dark-haired nurse in the books, is now a blonde doctor.

JW Jackson’s own appearance is never described in the novels, but Jesse Metcalfe is dark-haired and dark-eyed, so the producers cast blonde Canadian actress Sarah Lind to play Zee Madieras, an essential partner in the investigations. Her character is now a doctor and medical examiner, Mr. Craig said, because the Hallmark formula has two sleuths working together and a physician has useful forensic skills.

Small changes like these—Mr. Craig called them “little artificialities”—don’t affect the story, he said.

“It’s important to know that my father, when we talked about this, would say ‘I don’t care what they do, as long as it’s good,’” Mr. Craig said.

“I think he would be happy to know that somewhere, 60 people are making a living because he wrote a book 32 years ago,” he added. “There are gaffers and grips and all sorts of people on the set, doing a job they wouldn’t have if this book wasn’t being made into a movie.”

A Beautiful Place to Die: A Martha’s Vineyard Mystery airs at 8 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 12, on the Hallmark Channel. On Tuesday, Jan. 21, Jamie Craig will talk about his father's mysteries and the television adaption at the Vineyard Gazette.