|Jason Isaacs as Jackson Brodie. Pic: BBC/Ruby Films/Steffan Hill|
BBC1, from Sunday, 5 June, 9pm
This six-parter about private eye Jackson Brodie is an out-of-the-ordinary crime series. It’s based on the acclaimed novels of Kate Atkinson (Case Histories, One Good Turn, When Will There Be Good News), which are not usually found on the crime shelf, being more straight fiction.
And so the story is less a whodunit than a emotional, sometimes funny drama about a world-weary man who just can’t say no to cases he should avoid – and some women he should avoid, too – while failing to come to terms with his own damaged life.
From gangster to good guy – Jason Isaacs
Jason Isaacs, familiar in baddie roles as Harry Potter’s adversary Lucius Malfoy and the gangster in Brotherhood, ensures this series works by showing a tough-guy vulnerability that makes Jackson an appealing hero.
Especially for female viewers, because the clients he helps are mostly women and the case histories he attempts to resolve are about women who are missing, been murdered, or who have lost their cat. In fact, Jackson’s world is all women – estranged wife, young daughter, former police colleague, lovers.
The missing moggy belongs to Sylvia Syms’ Binky Rain, Jackson’s non-paying client who calls him in to track down the feline. While at her house, he hears a woman crying next door, asks if everything’s all right and is dragged into the world of the Land sisters, Julia and Amelia. They want Jackson to investigate the mystery of their sister, Olivia, who vanished without trace 30 years before.
Sex with a client
Later, at his office he is asked by Theo Wyre to find his daughter’s killer, who has eluded the police. And finally, in the opening episode, a woman approaches him in a bar, has sex with him, and then asks him to find the daughter of her imprisoned sister.
It’s an overloaded case book, but the reluctant Jackson winds up saying yes once he hears the troubled pleas of his would-be clients. He’s sensitive and wants to help, but as a former soldier and policeman Jackson’s also a man of action, often having to show off his pectorals and tattoos.
He investigates the pasts of others, probably as a way to understand the upsets in his own background, particularly the murder of his sister when he was young and his abrupt exit from the police. In the present, he is estranged from his wife, who is about to take his eight-year-old daughter, Marlee (Millie Innes), to New Zealand. The scenes with Marlee accompanying Jackson on his sometimes violent investigations are affecting and funny.
Mystery novel of the decade
When the novel of Case Histories was published, Stephen King said it was the best mystery book of the decade. The switch to the small screen has worked pretty well, preserving some of the richness of character – not just of Jackson, but also figures such as his police contact DC Monroe (Amanda Abbington) – along with the books’ sharp, dark humour, and intricate plotting.
It’s good to see the fictional serial killers and pathology close-ups being given a rest for a fresh detective character. With Edinburgh as the wonderful setting and with heartfelt, sometimes nicely eccentric performances, Case Histories is intriguing and enjoyable.