Third degree: Sophie Hannah

Sophie Hannah, 39, whose novel The Point of Rescue was recently turned into the drama Case Sensitive by ITV1, is the author of internationally bestselling psychological thrillers – Little Face, Hurting Distance, The Other Half Lives and A Room Swept White. crimetimepreview recently brought her in to be questioned about her addiction to Class A plotting on television…

Your favourite British crime series or thriller on TV?
I thought Waking the Dead, Cracker and Inspector Morse were all brilliant. And in the nineties I was obsessed with the Inspector Wexford mysteries – partly because I love Ruth Rendell’s books, but

I thought the TV versions delivered a startlingly accurate Wexford and Burden, and I liked the atmosphere  of the programmes.

Favourite US crime series or thriller on TV?
Recent: The Shield. I started watching it as Methadone (The Wire was Heroin and I’d used up my supply, and no re-ups were forthcoming!), but ended up thinking it was even better than The Wire.  Season 7, with all the trouble between Vic and Shane and the amazing ending, was as brilliantly tragic as Hamlet or Macbeth. My favourite non-contemporary US crime series is Cagney & Lacey – sheer genius. I will never forget Harv arguing in his pyjamas. Also, although in a way it’s a medical drama, House is my favourite thing ever to have graced a TV screen – and in its own way it’s a detective series, though the mysteries are illness-related.

Did you get into The Killing on BBC4?
I found the first ten or eleven episodes dull and plodding, just people traipsing around trying to get hold of CCTV footage, and making a fuss about wanting to be Mayor – one of the most boring jobs in the world, so it was hard to identify.  I got into it at around episode 12, when Bengt suggested the killer might have killed before, and told Lund to look for other cases of missing girls. From then until the end I was gripped, but the ending was rushed, shoddy, inadequately explained, and revealed loads of serious plot holes. Ultimately, I didn’t think it was very good, and no one would have got excited about it if it hadn’t been Danish and full of nice scratchy-looking jumpers. Also, it’s annoying that when a crime drama has a crap plot but lots of Danish weather and atmosphere, all the highbrows rave about it, whereas something with a superb plot and no highbrow points (eg the recent episode of Waking the Dead, ‘Harbinger’) is completely undervalued. But crime drama is and should be all about plot, as a way of elucidating character. Vagn’s killer psychology was never made clear and was presented inconsistently, so that undermined the whole thing. 

Top TV cop?
I’d feel disloyal if I didn’t choose mine – Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer from Case Sensitive.  I’m not boasting or saying they’re the best, but to choose anyone else would feel like saying I love other people’s children more than mine (not that I do – other people’s children are generally a nightmare!) After Simon and Charlie, my faves are Hathaway in Lewis, and Shane Vendrell from The Shield. I feel very defensive on behalf of Shane – Vic went into a massive huff with him for killing Lem, but he, Vic, instilled in Shane the belief that it’s okay to kill anyone who seriously threatens the Strike Team. Vic, of course, didn’t mean that it was all right to kill ‘one of them’, and especially not Lem, who Vic didn’t see as a threat – and maybe Shane was wrong to see Lem as a threat – but the point is that Shane, though maybe a bit dim, thought he was living up to Vic’s ideals and did something he massively didn’t want to do to help Vic, as he saw it, because he really loved him. And then Vic punished and banished him. At which point I decided I would love Shane for ever and be the only person who saw the good in him!

Which unfilmed book/character should be made into a TV drama?
Jill McGown’s Lloyd and Hill cop duo. There was once a pilot, starring Philip Glenister and Michelle Collins, but there should be a long-running series. They are superb characters and the books have stunning plots. And Jill McGown is not well known now, and she really should be. She’s the natural heir to Agatha Christie’s plotty throne!   

Following Case Sensitve, which of your books would make a good TV drama or film? Who would you cast to be the hero?
The ones that I think would make the best TV dramas are Little Face and Lasting Damage.

Will we see another Case Sensitive with Charlie Zailer on ITV?

Darren Boyd and Olivia Williams as Waterhouse and Zailer. Pic: ITV

I’m not allowed to say until ITV announces officially, but put it this way, it’s not bad news. Well, not for me, anyway. Perhaps for AA Gill…

What do you watch with a guilty conscience?
I feel a bit guilty about liking Lewis as much as I do. I like the Oxfordishness of it and the witty dialogue. I know it’s not groundbreaking, but isn’t there enough broken ground in the world?  I also like New Tricks, though I can see it isn’t great television – but it’s fun and somehow comforting. On a non-crime note, I love (and feel guilty for loving) Not Going Out, the sitcom starring Lee Mack, and Two and a Half Men

Least favourite cop show/thriller?
I wasn’t convinced by Luther.

Do you prefer The Wire or The Sopranos?
The Wire – by some distance

Marple/Poirot or Sherlock Holmes?
I love all three in book form. Televisually, Sherlock adaptations are usually better – House, for example, was inspired by Sherlock Holmes. Nuff said.

Wallander – BBC or the Swedish version?
Swedish version, but I didn’t really rate either. Plots are perfunctory and flimsy. 

US or British television crime dramas?
The Shield, The Wire, House, The Sopranos and Cagney & Lacey are better than most UK crime shows. The solution to this problem, from a British point of view, is simple: broadcasters need to take more risks and plan longer-lasting dramas. All the best US ones have 10 or more episodes in which to develop.

Your favourite crime/thriller writers?
Ruth Rendell, Nicci French, Tana French, Jill McGown, Agatha Christie, Val McDermid, Jesse Kellerman, Belinda Bauer, S J Watson, Karin Alvtegen, early Minette Walters.

Favourite non-crime/thriller author?
Iris Murdoch, Wendy Cope, Geoff Dyer, Tim Parks

Favourite crime movie or thriller?
Twelve Angry Men – my all-time favourite film.

You’ve been framed for murder. Which fictional detective/sleuth would you want to call up?
I’d have to call Simon Waterhouse – he’d be offended if I didn’t!

• Sophie’s latest thriller is Lasting Damage, once again featuring Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer, is out in paperback in August. You can read the beginning of it here.



  1. Great interview, nice to hear a top writer speaking her mind.. And I totally agree with her about the looney tunes Luther. What was that about anyway??

    But House? Seriously..? Thought that series was one big yawn. Get one obscure-disease add one grumpy medic with an unexplained limp and an atitude problem watch him figure out what it is while being rude to everyone and that’s all there is to it. IMHO. Must be missing something there.

    Plus, The Killing!! OMG! She didn’t like the scratchy jumpers! I’m shocked.

  2. Anonymous says:

    If she found The Killing dull and plodding, remind me not to read her novels!

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