Best crime shows of 2010

Here’s a look at the top crime series on UK television in 2010. It was the year case files closed on The Bill, which had really lost its way, and Heartbeat, which had never been very exciting in the first place, and when some savvy new detectives made their debuts. But best of all was the retelling of the heartrending story of the victims of the Ipswich murders…

(Pics: BBC, ITV, BSkyB)

1 Five Daughters, BBC
An unusual choice, maybe, but this was the most affecting and unforgettable crime drama of last year. It was a dramatisation about the five women murdered in Ipswich in 2006. It was not about the killer, Steve Wright, or a heroic detective. These were simply young women who had the misfortune to cross the path of a murderer, ordinary people and their families who did not deserve their fate. Made with the assistance of many of the victims’ families, the police and the local drug rehabilitation centre (Iceni, which is now threatened with closure), the women’s stories were emotional and at times frustrating. In so much crime fiction, the victims – usually in a ditch in the opening scene – are just plot points. Here they were loving, caring people whose addictions made them vulnerable. When portrayed this sensitively, the truth is far more poignant and thought-provoking than fiction. Written by Stephen Butchard, starring Sarah Lancashire and Juliet Aubrey.

2 Sherlock, BBC
Updating Sherlock Holmes could have been the turkey of the year – and there were production missteps, with an un-aired pilot – but the end result was inspired, witty and a terrific series of three mysteries. Benedict Cumberbatch was haughty and charismatic as the amateur sleuth, while Martin Freeman was moving but usually exasperated with his new companion. Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss and Stephen Thompson wrote it, Paul McGuigan directed a couple, and David Arnold and Michael Price provided the superb music. The BBC seemed unsure of its potential and scheduled it in the viewing dead zone of July. Will there more stories this year in a better viewing slot following all the acclaim and awards? Elementary.

3 Zen, BBC
Following the success of the beautifully filmed Kenneth Branagh Wallander series, the BBC turned to the same production team to make this radiant three-part series about Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen. The suits, the shades, the cigarettes, the retro music and Alfa Romeos – these three stories certainly had all the gloss. But the mysteries, and Rufus Sewell as Zen, gave the dramas their substance. The intricate plots in which the detective tiptoed through the political and everyday corruption of Italian life were enjoyable and fresh. 

4 Justified, Five USA
For sheer coolness Elmore Leonard’s deputy marshal Raylan Givens was hard to beat. Timothy Olyphant brought something of lawless Deadwood with him as the charming but no-nonsense, shoot-first lawman. Inspired by Leonard’s short story Fire in the Hole, the series was a weekly hour of sassy fun – with Givens’ complicated love life featuring sharp performances from Natalie Zea and Joelle Carter – and series two should be with us in the UK in the second quarter of 2011 (why do we always have to wait so long?).

5 Thorne, Sky1
Author Mark Billingham’s popular detective was stylishly adapted for the small screen by actor David Morrissey (as executive producer and star in the title role) and Sky Television. Sleepyhead was the opener and it was a pretty chilling story, about a sadist who induces a state of living paralysis in his victim, but who has killed while perfecting his technique. Aidan Gillen, a terrific Eddie Marsan and a charming Natascha McElhone gave great support. Following its version of The Take the previous year, this suggested that Sky is slowly maturing into a formidable producer of crime dramas.

Law & Order: UK, ITV
The stories are pinched from the US original, but the UK franchise still made their retelling tight and subtle. And the cast have been very good, with Bradley Walsh and Jamie Bamber as the detectives and Ben Daniels and Freema Agyeman as the legal crusaders – all different but blending together to spark some sensitive stories to life. It’s been recommissioned, and rightly so.

7 Garrow’s Law, BBC
Intelligent and compelling glimpse into the dark legal age of the 18th century, when justice was summary, cruel and largely inflicted on those who were poor. It’s all drawn from the real historic Old Bailey proceedings that are available online, with Andrew Buchan starring as the legal pioneer William Garrow, who basically influenced the way courts worked by instigating cross-examinations and other practices. The stories involved the legal murder of slaves, homosexuality and the cruel treatment of sailors at Greenwich Hospital.

8 Spooks, BBC
A series that still delivers the thrills after eight years. The latest series divided fans owing the contorted character somersault of main heartthrob Lucas North, played by Richard Armitage. It was like discovering that James Bond was actually working for SMERSH. This was hard to swallow, and how the series replaces Armitage will be interesting to see. But as an assured mix of suspense and emotional tension, Spooks still had everyone on the edge of their armchairs.

2011’s brand new TV crime dramas and thrillers

Vera starring Brenda Blethyn (pic: ITV)

Powerful new series are lined up to make 2011 a memorable year for TV crime drama. The breadth and variety of programmes, from the UK and the US, looks terrific. Most of these programmes are in production or finished but not scheduled yet.

The Body Farm
BBC1 has just announced The Body Farm, a spin-off from Waking the Dead, with Tara Fitzgerald reprising her character from the series, Eve Lockhart. This six-parter, made for the Beeb by Waking the Dead actor Trevor Eve’s company, Projector Productions, kicks off with a 90-minute episode. Eve will be working at a private forensics facility that receives human remains for experiment, and assist police forces around the world. Filming starts in the spring.

Page Eight
A powerhouse cast has been signed up by BBC2 for Page Eight, David Hare’s first original screenplay for 20 years. Bill Nighy, Rachel Weisz, Judy Davis, Michael Gambon and Ralph Fiennes will appear in this modern-day espionage drama. Johnny Worricker (Nighy) is a long-serving M15 officer. His boss and best friend, Benedict Baron (Gambon), dies suddenly, leaving behind him an inexplicable file which threatens the stability of the organisation. David Hare, playwright and Oscar nominee, says, ‘The last decade has been as testing as any in the history of the British intelligence community – the compromises and dilemmas they’ve faced in the new century make a fascinating story. I’m thrilled to be working with such an extraordinary ensemble of great actors.’

Boardwalk Empire
Sky Atlantic launches on 1 February, bringing the much anticipated Boardwalk Empire from Sky’s deal with HBO. This 1920s tale of Prohibition Atlantic City is inspired by the real figure of ‘Nucky’ Thompson (Steve Buscemi), a corrupt politician who ruled the town with a mixture of charm and deals with the likes of Al Capone (Stephen Graham) and ‘Lucky’ Luciano (Vincent Piazza). The opening episode apparently cost $20m and was directed by Martin Scorsese. Other highlights include Blue Bloods, a tale about a family of New York cops, and another chance to see the multiple Emmy and Golden Globe-winning The Sopranos.

The Field of Blood
Set in Glasgow, 1982, this BBC crime drama centres on would-be journalist Paddy Meehan, a young copygirl working in a newspaper office. Stuck in an almost exclusively male-dominated world of limited opportunities and cynicism, Paddy dreams of becoming an investigative journalist, and becomes entangled in a dark murder case. Adapted from the Denise Mina novel.

The Reckoning (previously Helter Skelter)
Starring Ashley Jenson and Max Beesley, this ITV thriller has been held over from Christmas and should go out in March. It’s a rather daft premise, about a mum given a life-or-death proposition – she’s been bequeathed £5m, but to receive it she must kill a ‘man who deserves to die’. It just so happens, she has a daughter with a brain tumor who needs an expensive op in America. Could it be better than it sounds?

A three-part BBC drama with Paul Abbott as an executive producer. It’s the story of a son returning to probe the history of his family, and the digging into a scandal two decades old, whose effects still live on.

Case Histories
Six-part BBC series from acclaimed novelist Kate Atkinson. Private investigator Jackson Brodie, who will be played by Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter, The Patriot), is the complex and compulsive detective surrounded by death, intrigue and misfortune. While his own life is haunted by a family tragedy, he attempts to unravel disparate case histories. The series has been filmed and set in modern Edinburgh.

Another one from the Beeb, this single film thriller stars Damian Lewis and is written by Stephen Butchard, who was responsible for last year’s excellent Five Daughters. Lewis plays Detective Inspector Anthony Carter in a story about human trafficking in Britain today, where children are brought here for a better life but end up working illegally outside the system.

ITV has turned to the novels of Ann Cleeves and her fat detective inspector Vera Stanhope, of whom one character thinks it ‘would take a crane to shift to her’. How Brenda Blethyn has been inflated to fill this role will be interesting to see. Four stories, set in contemporary Northumberland and including Hidden Depths and Telling Tales, have been filmed. Vera is obsessive about her work and lonely, but she doesn’t show it, facing her colleagues with caustic wit and guile. Her trusted and long-suffering colleague is Joe Ashworth, her right hand man and surrogate son.

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

An enthralling true story based on the non-fiction best-seller by Kate Summerscale about an infamous murder in a Victorian country house. The two-hour drama from ITV stars Paddy Considine (Red Riding Trilogy, The Bourne Ultimatum) in the lead role of Inspector Jonathan Whicher, and has been adapted by Neil McKay (See No Evil: The Moors Murders). Also starring Peter Capaldi (In the Loop, Torchwood, The Thick of It) and Geraldine Somerville (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows). Set in 1860, this  story of murder, psychological suspense and courtroom drama begins when three-year-old Saville Kent is found brutally murdered and hidden down a servants’ privy in the grounds of the elegant Road Hill House on the edge of a village on the Wiltshire/Somerset border. Whicher’s career was ruined by this case, but he became the inspiration for the first detective novel, Wilkie Collins’ Moonstone. This really is such a gripping story that something will have to be seriously wrong with the production for it not to be a compelling couple of hours.

Martina Cole’s The Runaway
Set in London’s Soho and New York during the 1960s and 70s, this is about a girl, treated so badly in
care that she runs away, to be befriended by a transvestite. She grows up in the heart of London’s underworld, while her sweetheart is pulled into a life of crime and has to flee to New York. Eventually the pair are drawn together again. Starring Alan Cumming, Ken Stott, Keith Allen, Jack O’Connell and Joanna Vanderham. Coming to Sky 1 in March.

Hit and Miss
This one looks interesting. New channel Sky Atlantic has commissioned an original drama to go with all the HBO gems it has. Hit and Miss is from Paul Abbott’s development company (Abbott, of course, wrote State of Play, Shameless, Touching Evil and others) and is his first foray outside of terrestrial TV. Chloe is a contract killer with a secret – she’s a pre-op transsexual. Her life is complicated when she gets a letter from her ex, Wendy, revealing that she is dying from cancer and that Chloe has a 10-year-old son. Written by Sean Conway, it’s described as high-concept.

Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake
Atmospheric new multi-part drama series announced for BBC Two from Oscar-winning writer/director Jane Campion (The Piano, Sweetie, Portrait of a Lady, In the Cut, Bright Star). Top of the Lake is set in remote, mountainous New Zealand and is a haunting story about our search for happiness in a paradise where honest work is hard to find. A 12-year-old girl stands chest deep in a frozen lake. She is five months pregnant, and she won’t say who the father is, insisting it was ‘no one’. Then she disappears. Robin Griffin, the investigating detective, will find this is the case that tests her to her limits. In the search for the girl she will first have to find herself. Directed by Jane Campion, and written by Jane Campion and Gerard Lee. It is a multi-part serial for BBC Two and will film in 2011.

Appropriate Adult
ITV has commissioned this factual drama, focusing on the untold story of how Fred and Rosemary West were brought to justice. It will look at the period between Fred West’s arrest and his suicide on New Year’s Day 1995, and how he confided in Janet Leach who took the role of the ‘appropriate adult’ during his police interviews. ‘Appropriate adults’ are appointed to sit in on police interviews with children or vulnerable adults to safeguard their interests. Dominic West (The Wire, 300) will play Fred West, and Emily Watson (The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, Gosford Park) takes the role of Janet Leach. The award-winning production team responsible for See No Evil: The Moors Murders, This Is Personal: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper, The Murder of Stephen Lawrence and Wall of Silence, will produce the drama written by Neil McKay.


Robbie (John Michie) and Jackie (Blythe Duff) on the trail of a suspect (all pics: (C) ITV)

Rating ★★★½

ITV1, Tuesday, 11 January, 9pm

It’s the longest-running crime series on UK television, having cracked mud-derrr cases since Mrs Thatcher was running the country. So you’d expect more of a fanfare for the return of Taggart, but typical of its no-nonsense Glaswegian characters, the show is back with a minimum of fuss.

DCI Matt Burke (Alex Norton)

ITV and its commercial sister across the border, STV, have a hard time letting some crime shows expire. So Morse without Morse has become Lewis, and Midsomer Murders is about to stagger on interminably once actor John Nettles departs – Tom Barnaby handing over to his cousin, John (played by Neil Dudgeon). The Beeb has played the same game with Silent Witness.

And Taggart, of course, went through a similar regeneration, to borrow Doctor Who‘s terminology. Former boxer turned actor Mark McManus was the original Taggart when the series launched in 1983, the writer and creator Glenn Chandler having famously got the inspiration for the characters’ names from the headstones in Glasgow’s Maryhill cemetery.

From McManus to MacPherson and beyond
McManus died in 1994 at the age of 59, but the series – the brand – was kept going, with Mike Jardine (actor James MacPherson) initially becoming the central character.

Investigating a young doctor’s murder – DI Ross and DS Reid

When MacPherson left in 2002, the show became an ensemble piece with its current trio – the newcomer DCI Matt Burke (Alex Norton) joining regulars DS Jackie Reid (Blythe Duff) and DI Robbie Ross (John Richie).

If this all sounds as appetising as reheating an old dinner, then it’s worth remembering that curry takeaway can taste pretty good the next day. Which is another way of saying Taggart‘s stories are well-crafted and the cast is terrific and believable.

Glasgow torture
The new series is aiming to ‘get back back to basics’ by being gritty and recapturing the show’s original dry humour. Without doing anything earth-shattering, it certainly succeeds in revitalising itself.

Bad Medicine starts off with a grisly torture scene, a man being cut with a Stanley knife, burned with a cigarette and finished off with a nail gun (I wonder if Glasgow Tourist Board are big fans of the series). The victim turns out to be a newly-qualified doctor who made and sold Ecstasy to pay his way through medical college.

Old pals fall out – DI Casey (Reece Dinsdale) and DCI Burke

The story gets a spicy twist with the arrival from London of two swaggering detectives, DI Casey (Reece Dinsdale), an old mate of Burke’s, and loudmouth DS Morretti (Steve John Shepherd).

Siobhan Redmond
There’s plenty of needle between the Scots and their southern ‘colleagues’, which is great to watch, and the tension is ratcheted up when more bodies turn up. Gritty this certainly is, with torture, three mud-derrrs and two suicides. As the title song says, ‘This town is mean’.

Alex Norton is fun to watch as the old-school bulldog of a cop, happy to knock suspects about, and who here is reminded by his boss, Chief Supt Karen Campbell (Siobhan Redmond), that a ‘DCI’s pension is pretty good these days’.

Joining the cast is Davood Ghadmi as pathologist Duncan Clark, who gets a welcome in the form of a rollicking from Burke.

Robbie leans on a witness

But no less important than Burke, are Jackie Reid and Robbie Ross. She is the detective who has little more to look forward to than a night in with a bottle of Pinot Grigio, and he’s the type, according to her, who goes for a ‘one-night stand you then throw over the next day for the footie’.

All of which neatly captures the bleakness and humour of these characters. Welcome back.

Kidnap & Ransom PREVIEW

Trevor Eve as Dominic King (all pics: (C) ITV Plc)

Rating ★★★½

ITV1,  Thursday, 13 January, 9pm

If the thought of sitting through a three-hour hostage drama in the company of Waking the Dead‘s Mr Angry, Trevor Eve, makes you long for something less tetchy and serious – say, a war documentary – think again.

The pedigree of this new thriller is a cut above many currently on TV, with Patrick Harbinson, the acclaimed scriptwriter on US hits such as 24, Law and Order and ER, providing a taut, pacy story with strong characters.

Hostage Naomi (Emma Fielding)

But while Eve, seen most recently in the highly-strung Bouquet of Barbed Wire but better known as short-fused detective superintendent Peter Boyd in Waking the Dead, can be heavy-going, in Kidnap & Ransom his performance is subtle, playing a troubled figure in an emotionally-charged story.

Death of a hostage
He is Dominic King, a private hostage negotiator whose new assignment is to bring home businesswoman and mother Naomi Shaffer, the victim of a kidnap in South Africa. The trouble for him is that he seems to be losing his touch in the dangerous world of hostage negotiations, and even as a husband too.

Dominic is haunted by a recent exchange in which the hostage was handed over as a corpse. His wife, Sophie, wants him to stop working at the sharp end of this hazardous business and support her political ambitions, and he is distant from his teenage daughter, Tess.

That is the strength of this three-parter. It takes time to build the characters, who are nuanced and believable. And it’s not just Dominic’s life we see into, it’s also Naomi’s, with her shocked husband and daughter following negotiations fearing that it could all go wrong.

Trevor Eve and Helen Baxendale

Helen Baxendale as King’s boss

And so, with domestic pressures mounting, Dominic has to leave for South Africa to see the transaction through and bring Naomi home.

Watch carefully and it slowly becomes apparent that Dominic is dealing with something bigger than the bunch of desperate amateurs he initially suspects are the movers behind this kidnap. But what makes this drama compelling it that it is a slow burn, with none of the wild plot convolutions these shows often depend on to keep audiences gripped.

Trevor Eve has a good cast round him, with Helen Baxendale as his boss, Angela Beddoes, Emma Fielding as Naomi, Natasha Little as his wife, Sophie, and John Hannah turning up in episode two as Willard, a more sinister figure for Dominic to tackle.

SAS guys
Kidnap & Ransom was developed by Eve’s own production company, Projector, and he is the series’s executive producer. He shrewdly wanted to have a premise that hadn’t been done to death in cop and medical shows, and that’s how they came up with the hostage negotiator idea before Patrick Harbinson was brought in.

Tumisho Masha as Insp Lanning
John Hannah as Willard

‘We wanted to do a story based around the life of an ex-military man who became a hostage negotiator,’ says the actor. ‘It happens a lot – ex SAS guys, when they hit their 50s, go in to private security, the “grey hairs” as they call them. So we knew we wanted to do that and then it was a question of coming up with the story and creating the life around this man.

‘The life of a hostage negotiator is strange places, little hotel rooms, dealing with rather unpleasant people all the time. That’s their thing and they have to have a great sense of calm. That was what attracted me to it. Because having played Boyd in Waking the Dead, who’s an irascible, volatile person, we were looking for something different. Boyd would be a terrible hostage negotiator.’

It’s a successful gear change for Eve. Kidnap & Ransom, filmed in South Africa and London, has a near cinematic quality, a fresh story for UK television and is packed with tension.

Third Degree: Ann Cleeves

Award-winning British novelist Ann Cleeves is a serial crime writer, with her collections including amateur sleuths George & Molly, Inspector Ramsay, the soon-to-be-televised Vera Stanhope, and the recent Shetland Island Quartet. crimetimepreview pulls her in for questioning about her TV habits…

Your favourite British crime series or thriller on TV?

This is very tricky.  I loved Morse, but having watched those again, they do seem very slow.  I thought the recent working of Sherlock Holmes was magnificent – witty, fun and capturing the essence of the original.

Favourite US crime series or thriller on TV?

I enjoyed the old series like NYPD Blue and Homicide: Life on the Street.  I’ve never watched The Wire, but everyone tells me I should.

Top TV cop?

Taggart – can’t remember the actor’s name [Mark McManus] but he was fantastic.

Which unfilmed book/character should be made into a TV drama?

Martin Edwards wrote a series set in Liverpool with sixties song lyrics as titles and a solicitor hero.  I think Liverpool would provide a brilliantly atmospheric back-drop and Harry Devlin is a great character.

If one of your novels were filmed, who would you cast to be the hero?

One has – the Vera Stanhope books have been adapted for ITV with Brenda Blethyn as the hero – they’ll be broadcast in the spring.  I wouldn’t have considered Brenda as Vera but she’s magnificent.  I hear her voice in my head now when I’m writing dialogue.

If the Shetland books were filmed I’d like David Tennant to be Jimmy Perez.  He’s known for his manic energy but I think he could do intense stillness very well too.

What do you watch with a guilty conscience (or what’s your guilty pleasure)?

US Law and Order.  Absolutely bizarre plot lines.

Least favourite cop show/thriller?

Rosemary and Thyme.

Do you prefer The Wire or The Sopranos?

I haven’t seen either.

Marple/Poirot or Sherlock Holmes?

Holmes.  I really don’t get Christie.

Wallander – BBC or the Swedish version?

Absolutely the Swedish version.  The BBC film looked beautiful, but lost the sense of Kurt’s team, which is so important in the books.

US or British television crime dramas?

British, but only because I don’t know much about US contemporary programming.

Your favourite crime/thriller writers?

I love the Nordic writers – I’m chair of judges for the CWA International Dagger so I get sent loads of wonderful books. My favourite at the moment is Johan Theorin – wonderful!

Favourite non-crime/thriller author?

My favourite book is still probably Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain Fournier  (The Lost Domaine in translation).  I read it for French A Level and it’s romantic and a perfect book for an adolescent. I still find it moving and mysterious.

Favourite crime movie or thriller?

Fargo.  I love the snow.

You’ve been framed for murder. Which fictional detective/sleuth would you want to call up?

Helen Mirren from Prime Suspect.

Ann’s Shetland Island Quartet of stories reached its climax with Blue Lightning, which is available in paperback. Hidden Depths, starring Brenda Blethyn as DI Vera Stanhope, should be broadcast by ITV1 in the Spring.


Kelly Adams, Robert Vaughn, Adrian Lester, Robert Glenister and Matt Di Angelo (pics: BBC)

Rating ★★★½

BBC1, Friday, 7 January, 9pm

With child murder and serial killers now a staple on many cop shows, it’s hard to begrudge the return of this light-hearted – as well as light-fingered – conman-caper series.

Like the grandaddy of con-man films, The Sting, this series from writer Tony Jordan relies on the wit and charm of its grifters, along with beautifully played-out cons that relieve the corrupt and nasty of their ill-gotten lucre.

Anna Chancellor, right, as crooked Wendy Stanton

While the cast still misses original member Marc Warren as Danny Blue (series one can be seen online at SeeSaw), the current players are a watchable bunch. For series seven there are no changes, so Adrian Lester returns as Mickey Stone, the gang’s leader, with Robert Glenister (‘fixer’ Ash Morgan), the ever-suave Robert Vaughn (‘roper’ Albert Stroller), Kelly Adams (Emma Kennedy) and Matt Di Angelo (Emma’s brother, Sean).

Anna Chancellor is the mark
The opening episode is the usual impossibly convoluted affair in which the scamsters pull off four intricate cons at the same time (Tony Jordan must have fun working out these plots).

But before an arrogant viscount, a shady judge and a bent MP get their comeuppance, Mickey and the gang decide to help the niece of their favourite barman, Eddie (Rob Jarvis), who’s been ripped off by the owner of a modelling agency.

Anna Chancellor plays the Cruella De Vil-like Wendy Stanton, who routinely fleeces young wannabe models. Can the gang get the tight-fisted Wendy, who twitches whenever large sums are mentioned, to invest a huge amount of cash in their bogus fashion line?

Robert Vaughn’s still having fun
With its cool jazzy music, slick locations and witty grifters, Hustle makes it seem plausible and fun. Like a pickpocket’s diversionary tactic, it’s all an illusion and can leave us feeling short-changed if we unpick the story.

The formula will need to move on if the new series is to avoid becoming routine and dull, and so we will be meeting Albert’s daughter from the US soon. But perhaps the ante could be upped for the characters if a little more danger and risk were introduced at the expense of all the larkiness.

But Hollywood legend Robert Vaughn (The Magnificent Seven,The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) and his co-stars seem to enjoy showing us the tricks of the trade. And for a shallow bit of old-fashioned entertainment, the series usually provides a few good laughs and is a cheerful break from watching corpses being sawn open on Silent Witness.

• Crime Zapper – Death in Paradise, To Catch a Thief, Nordic Noir •

• Filming starts in the spring for the first joint production between the BBC and France Television of an eight-part drama called Death in Paradise. It is described as a fish-out-of-water story about an English cop posted to the Caribbean island of Sainte Marie. What to anyone else might be paradise, for detective inspector Richard Gill is hell. He hates th sun, sea and sand, and can’t adapt to the local style of policing. But he is a brilliant detective, whose first case is to uncover who killed another British cop. Sophie Gigon from France Television says, ‘This is a great example of our international co-production work, based on the universal theme of crime investigation with a comedy touch. We’ve combined English and French creative talent to aim for a production that will be light-hearted but meaningful.’ Death in Paradise is Robert Thorogood’s first TV credit and follows his discovery via the Red Planet Pictures annual writing competition. Casting to be announced…

• Monday’s Nordic Noir doc on BBC Four was terrific, an insightful tour through Scandinavia’s ground-breaking and popular crime writers back to Sjowall and Wahloo. Participants included Karim Fossum, Jo Nesbo, Maj Sjowall, Barry Forshaw and others. Catch it on iPlayer (though I’m not sure this is available to users outside the UK), and look out for the follow-up, Italian Noir, on Boxing Day night.

• Vintage crime hounds may be interested in two radio adaptations coming up soon. BBC Radio 4 is dramatising David Dodge’s 1952 novel To Catch a Thief, which Alfred Hitchcock turned into a glittering suspense movie starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. American John Robie is living quietly in the south of France trying to live down his career as a notorious jewel thief, when a series of copycat burglaries lead the police to suspect that he is back to his old ways. To catch his imitator he tries to lay a trap, which is complicated by the daughter of one rich American tourist taking a fancy to him. Jeff Harding plays John Robie, Jennifer Lee Jellicorse plays Francie Stevens, Laura Brook is Mrs Stevens, Alun Raglan is Paul, Simon Armstrong is Bellini, Aurelie Amblard plays Danielle. Catch it on Saturday, January 8, at 2.30pm.
Meanwhile, to mark the 50th anniversary of Dashiel Hammett‘s death on January 10, BBC Radio 7 has a two-hour dramatisation of another tale that became one of the great crime films, The Maltese Falcon. This goes out of Sunday 9 at 1pm and stars Tom Wilkinson.

• As if walking to work in London’s freak snow blizzards this winter is not bad enough, I stumbled into this 10ft monster this morning. What chillled my spine, apart from the sub-zero temperature, was that I am currently reading Jo Nesbo‘s The Snowman. For those who haven’t got round to this best-seller yet, it’s the story of detective Harry Hole tracking a sinister serial killer whose calling cards are disturbing snowmen. OK, this one’s got a friendly smile, but so did Norman Bates.

• Best seasonal wishes to everyone who has visited crimetimepreview. In its first four months the site’s had 15,000 hits, and there are some terrific new crime series lining up for 2011. They’ll all be covered, we’ll have interviews and a YouTube channel of promos and trailers, and much more. Happy viewing.


Above Suspicion – Deadly Intent PREVIEW

Ciarán Hinds, Kelly Reilly, Shaun Dingwall and Celyn Jones (pics: (C) ITV Plc/LA PLANTE)

Rating ★★★

ITV1, Mon 3 Jan, Tues 4 Jan, Wed 5 Jan, 9pm

This is a third outing for Lynda La Plante’s Above Suspicion featuring detective Anna Travis, the modern-day heir apparent to Prime Suspect‘s Jane Tennison.

But while she may be Tennison’s heir, Travis is not her equal. Above Suspicion has performed very decently for ITV in the ratings – first series notching up 8m viewers – and Kelly Reilly, who plays Travis, may be an attractive lead, but this new La Plante production is not as sure-footed or powerful as Helen Mirren’s predecessor.

Reilly is too girlish (despite being 33) and glam to convince as a high-flying detective in what is still shown here to be a male-chauvinist enclave. And she is flying – having started out as a teetering rookie in series one, she is now a detective inspector.

Jane Tennison would never have cut it if she’d worn short black skirts and low-cut singlets around the office, and though we may have moved on since 1991, we haven’t moved on so far that Travis would be taken seriously looking so exposed today.

Despite such quibbles, this third series is possibly the best yet. Not as gruesome as the others, particularly last time’s The Red Dahlia instalment, but still a compelling story.

Plastic surgery in Mexico
In a prelude, we see a mystery man in Mexico getting plastic surgery, before the action switches to London, where there’s been a shooting on a council estate drug squat. The victim turns out to be Frank Brandon, a bent cop and former chum of Travis’s gruff guvnor, DCS James Langton (Ciarán Hinds).

His team quickly discovers that Brandon recently married Julia Larson (Stine Stengade), a glamorous, wealthy woman who was employing him as her driver. All of which seems a bit unusual.

Known to have been on the estate are fierce drug dealer Silas Roach (Robbie Gee, left) and small-time user Eddie Court (Ashley Court). Meanwhile, Travis questions a resident on the estate who insists he heard three shots, when only two bullets hit Brandon.

Travis’s style to follow her hunches on her own, because her male superiors don’t listen to her. She finds the third bullet – and gets a rollicking – questions Julia Larson, who reluctantly reveals she had a previous husband, and researches Fentanyl, a pure drug with the street name Drop Dead, traces of which were found at the squat.

What’s going on between Travis and Langton?
Brandon’s strange marriage, the man who changed his identity and the drug that seems to have prompted several assassinations make this a heady story. Mixed in are Travis’s clashes with DCI Mike Lewis (Shaun Dingwall), who’s also been promoted and is heading the investigation, and the intensifying emotional spark she has with their boss, Langton.

La Plante gives an insight into this strange attraction. She says, ‘It’s really down to the will-they-won’t-they, question?

‘A lot of women absolutely love Langton, and some find him really awful to Travis. In that respect it’s a bit like Gone with the Wind. He’s so nasty to her at times, but in this one we do have the emotional impact when he tells her the truth about his life. We see that this vulnerability allows Travis to reveal her feelings for him, if only to herself. It continues to build the tension between them. I think this is what makes their interaction compelling.

‘Langton is a dedicated police officer and an exceedingly good one who has very strong gut instincts, but he is not an intellectual man. He’s hardly ever read a book, if it wasn’t connected to a crime.

‘However, Travis is university educated and different… she also stands up to him, which none of the other women or men do. But like Langton, Travis is intuitively intelligent and in many ways has a similar trait to Langton in that, she won’t let something go. This makes her a very good detective, she could very easily dismiss the fact that one of the witnesses said she heard three bullets. Her persistence in uncovering the detail proves to be the key in this case. A fact that Langton admires.’

Travis stirs the case further when she discovers a link between Julia’s ex and a drug distributor on the FBI most wanted listed, who could now be in the UK. The team don’t really know what they are investigating or how the case will escalate, and neither will viewers.

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