• crime zapper •

• Funniest man at the Galaxy Book Awards was easily Paul O’Grady, there to present an award. He pricked the ceremonial side of things bantering with host David Baddiel, saying he was disappointed with the student protests and was going to reissue Lily Savage’s pamphlet on How to Conduct Yourself in a Riot, and demanding to know where the free Galaxy chocolate was for the guests, which had the sponsor momentarily flustered. The free bars came at the end, and that was all the consolation there was for the crime writers in attendance such as Lee Child, Kate Atkinson and Peter James, who all went away empty handed. Hilary Mantel added Author of the Year for Wolf Hall to her Booker prize, which I’m ploughing through at the moment. It’s a bit slow, to be honest – the trouble with literature is that unlike genre fiction it has no plot. Anyway, here’s the full gong list: TESCO BIOGRAPHY OF THE YEAR The Fry Chronicles by Stephen Fry (Penguin Group); TESCO FOOD & DRINK BOOK OF THE YEAR Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi (Random House); NATIONAL BOOK TOKENS NEW WRITER OF THE YEAR The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal (Random House); MORE4 NON-FICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR  The Making Of Modern Britain by Andrew Marr (Pan Macmillan); SAINSBURY’S POPULAR FICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR One Day by David Nicholls (Hodder & Stoughton); WATERSTONE’S UK AUTHOR OF THE YEAR Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (Harper Collins); GALAXY INTERNATIONAL AUTHOR OF THE YEAR Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (Harper Collins); WH SMITH CHILDREN’S BOOK OF THE YEAR Zog by Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler (Scholastic); OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT AWARD Terry Pratchett; OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT AWARD Martin Amis.

• So farewell, Lucas North – you dirty stinking traitor. Spooks fans loved you, but you betrayed them by doing a murderous deal with the Chinese. Last night Lucas, or should we call you John, finally bowed out after a rather outrageous character flip-flop from his being number two in Section D into a bit of a psycho who somehow had evaded MI5’s vetting process. Exciting, yes, but convoluted and slightly daft. Judging by the response from the vast online Spooks communities, season nine was thrilling, implausible but better than season eight. Some felt Lucas (a heart-throb to many) had been character-assassinated. One thing’s for sure, Spooks generated a huge amount of traffic for crimetimepreview, and I was amazed how many people follow its every twist and nuance. The Spooks Forum alone has clocked up a total of 36,000 posts on the show down the years. That’s a lot of pressure for whoever writes season 10…

Sherlock has been nominated for five gongs at the Royal Television Society Craft and Design Awards, including one for David Arnold and Michael Price for their superb original score. The awards, which celebrate creative design in television production, take place in London on November 24. Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, has been recommissioned by the Beeb for a new series.

• Good news for Foyle’s War fans. No, not a new series, but a whole week of classic episodes on ITV3. From Monday, November 22, to Friday, 26 November, the channel will present at 9pm one top episode from the series, which was created by Anthony Horowitz and became an international hit, particularly Stateside. Most recently it picked up the People’s Dagger at the CWA Crime Thriller Awards, the gong being voted for by viewers. Episodes during Foyle’s War Week are A Lesson in Murder, Eagle Day, Fifty Ships, Among the Few and War Games.

• Are you a Spooks fan? Or did you prefer the stylish modern makeover for Sherlock? Perhaps you were captivated by Michael Kitchen’s Foyle? So vote for your fave now on the crimetimepreview poll of 2010’s best UK crime series at the top of the column on the right.

Garrow’s Law PREVIEW

Garrow, Lady Sarah and Southouse
(Pics: Graeme Hunter/Twenty Twenty Television)

Sunday, November 14, 9pm, BBC1


Rating ★★★★

Traditionalists who long for simpler times when the authorities really had zero tolerance for criminals must absolutely love Garrow’s Law.

The 18th century was a time when sodomy was a hanging offence and a ship’s captain could legally throw slave men, women and children overboard at sea if there wasn’t enough drinking water to go round. And, of course, most of the ‘criminals’ were what we’d today simply call poor and disadvantaged.

Series one, which first got us interested in the pioneering exploits of barrister William Garrow, was almost funny in showing us how bloody awful and iniquitous the Old Bailey was at the time. You half expected Blackadder and Baldrick to pop up every week.

Royal Television Society award
After the success of that season, inspired by the contemporary records from the Old Bailey that are now available online, and with a Royal Television Society award on the mantelpiece, co-creator Tony Marchant’s series and his starry cast are back.

And it kicks off with an extraordinary story about 133 slaves being dispatched overboard from the cargo ship The Zong. Not that the charge is mass murder, of course, but rather a legal squabble between the insurance company and the ship’s captain, whom the insurer’s think is trying to fiddle them.

As the lawyer opposing Garrow remarks, it’s a ‘case of chattels and goods, the same as horses being thrown over’. Did Captain Collingwood act so inhumanely to save the rest of the crew (after his blundering gets them lost at sea), or is there some corrupt reason for his brutality?

Andrew Buchan and Rupert Graves 
As Garrow, played once again by Andrew Buchan, the closest thing Britain has to James Stewart, searches frantically for a moral dimension to the case, his private life is in turmoil.

Lady Sarah Hill, newly returned to London with her infant son, is turned on by her jealous husband, Sir Arthur (Rupert Graves), who suspects the child might be that of her one-time admirer, Garrow. Sir Arthur and his high-ranking friends, unable to defeat Garrow in court, are determined to ruin him and Lady Sarah.

It’s a compelling mix of plotting and emotion, but the series’ magic is in the window it offers into a time when the legal process was extremely primitive. Before Garrow was re-examined in the recently posted online archives, he was obscure (not even a mention in the Oxford Companion to the Law).

Inventing the art of cross-examination
Thanks to Garrow’s Law we can glimpse this extraordinary man, years ahead of his age, outspoken and boldly anti-establishment during this phase of his career (he went on to be Attorney General and an MP).

Garrow argued for the right to put the case for defendants and virtually invented the art of cross-examining prosecution witnesses. Until then the judge or even the jury chipped in with questions. As depicted on-screen, the courtroom was chaotic, resembling a public debating chamber rather than a legal forum.

High-class lawyers were disdainful of representing the rabble dragged to court by shifty thief-takers and bounty hunters, who often gave evidence against the poor slobs they were paid to haul in.

Alun Armstrong and Lyndsey Marshal
The cast are all good, some with faces so characterful they look as though they’ve stepped out of the late 1700s (no names mentioned). Alun Armstrong is fatherly as Garrow’s mentor, Southouse, while Lyndsey Marshal manages to be strong but vulnerable as Lady Sarah.

It’s good to see this series returning. Each week’s story is dramatic and fascinating, with intrigues about the implications of being gay, about women and property, and the mistreatment of disabled sailors all to come.

If Garrow at times seems too saintly here, you still wonder what this man, so out of synch with his contemporaries, must really have been like.

Someone so dogged that he would cause uproar by calling Gustavus Vassa (actor Danny Sapani), a freed black man, to give evidence to a disbelieving court. Garrow was a man who could  really make enemies, and it’s great to watch him doing it.
• Tony Marchant has done an interesting blog about dramatising Garrow’s Law on the BBC site.

Accused, new crime drama PREVIEW

Christopher Eccleston as Willy (pics: BBC)

BBC1, Mondays from 15 November, 9pm

Rating ★★★★

In Jimmy McGovern’s Accused there is no opening shot of a murder scene, no serial killers and no detective with regulation sidekick.

The stories in this series of six are crime dramas with the emphasis on drama, exploring how ordinary people end up in the dock. Are they guilty, innocent or victims of circumstance?

Christopher Eccleston, who became known via McGovern’s Cracker before appearing in other works by the writer, including Hillsborough, is light years from Doctor Who in this opening episode. He plays Willy, a plumber with a family who wants to clear off with his younger lover.

Pookie Quesnel, Marc Warren, Juliet Stevenson
Just as he’s about to drop his bombshell to his other half, Carmel, his daughter announces she is marrying her boyfriend. His marriage split delayed, Willy finds he can’t finance his daughter Laura’s wedding when his bank card is declined. The building firm that owes him thousands for his plumbing work has gone bust.

Later, in the back of a mini cab he finds the apparent answer to his problems – £20,000 in a Jiffy bag. Loyal Carmel, played movingly by Pookie Quesnel, wants him to hand it in, but despite his best intentions, events take a disastrous turn.

McGovern, a champion of excellent drama with successes such as The Lakes and recently The Street, steers clear away from the norms and cliches of your typical cop show. He says, ‘No police procedure, thanks very much, no coppers striding along corridors with coats flapping. Just crime and punishment – the two things that matter most in any crime drama.’

Future episodes will see Mackenzie Crook (right) as a corporal in a story about not obeying orders; Juliet Stevenson and Peter Capaldi as parents of a fatally injured son; Marc Warren as a dad who acts against his better judgment; and Naomie Harris and Warren Brown as parents whose row causes reckless actions.


Wants to leave his wife for ‘firmer flesh’

Willy’s Story is a good drama, though Willy, with his chippyness and selfishness, is not that sympathetic a protagonist. Eccleston describes him as a loving family man, but if that was the intention, somehow it didn’t come across in the execution.

Certainly, many women will be hard pushed to root for a man who impulsively wants to dump his wife because he fancies some ‘firmer flesh’, as Willy tells the priest who gives him unwanted advice.

But the point with McGovern is often about people in glass houses. And perhaps the strength of Willy’s Story lies in something revealed about this production by Eccleston.

When the actors’ read-through of the script was finished, a vote was taken among those present on whether Willy should go down. The vote was split.

Spooks series nine finale PREVIEW

Is it the end for Lucas and Maya? (Pics: BBC)

Monday, 8 November, 9pm, BBC1


Rating ★★★½

That hall of funfair mirrors that is Spooks has been distorting the identity of Lucas North throughout series nine, and in the tumultuous last episode the twists keep coming right up to the end credits.

Spooks has long specialised in shock set-piece episodes for its major characters, and the fate of Richard Armitage’s troubled agent has certainly kept his large fanbase buzzing on internet forums.

Is there any way out for MI5’s most dashing and skilled spy? Is he a traitor? Or is he playing a dangerous but brilliant double game with the Chinese that will see him welcomed back to Section D with congratulations from his boss, Harry Pearce (Peter Firth)?

Danger for Ruth

This climax lives up to the high standards set in previous series, being an assured mix of suspense and emotional tension. There’s Lucas’s love for Maya (Laila Rouass) at stake. Then Ruth Evershed (Nicola Walker) is placed in appalling danger, which of course frays the devoted Harry’s sense of duty.

A new element in the mix is Harry’s enlistment of ex-internal affairs specialist Alec White, played with great insolence by Vincent Regan. Arrogant, aggressive, lazy and alcoholic, the grizzled White is still the man Harry needs to ferret out his fugitive agent, and he is a spiky recruit, suddenly making the rest of the team (Lucas aside) look like a bunch of goody two shoes.

When Harry offers him three months’ salary for his services, White demands six, to which Harry replies, ‘No, three should do it. I’ve seen your bank balance.’ Checkmate.

Cliffhanger for Section D
Like its American near relation, 24, Spooks fires so many twists and identity switches that we rarely have the time or inclination to examine the plot holes or character somersaults.

But while it has survived  changes in cast and several controversies to win a large and devoted following since launching in 2002, it will be interesting to see how Spooks develops in series 10, if it gets the green light (and things are left delicately balanced here for more adventures).

How many more hostage situations, plots to blow up London and betrayals before Spooks suffers its own identity crisis?

In the meantime, hang onto your armchairs. In this finale there’s a surprise round every bend.

The Little House PREVIEW

Lucy Griffiths as Ruth (pics ITV)

Monday, 1 November, 9pm, ITV1

Rating ★★★★

The mother-in-law, once the butt of many a cheesy comedy routine, is given a new and ominous twist by Francesca Annis in The Little House.

She certainly doesn’t look like a dragon, she is considerate and generous to her daughter-in-law, Ruth, offering to give her a country cottage in which to raise a family with husband Patrick.

What’s not to like? Well in this engrossing psychological thriller, based on Philippa Gregory‘s best-selling novel, appearances might be misleading.

Rising star Lucy Griffiths

What works brilliantly in this two-parter (scripted by Ed Whitmore, who wrote the recent Identity on ITV, and episodes of Silent Witness) is that it doesn’t hurry its secrets, and for a long time it’s hard to know if the mother-in-law is a conniving psycho or Ruth is unhinged.

Ruth is played by rising star  Lucy Griffiths (U Be Dead, Robin Hood). We meet her as a young wife in love with her busy, successful husband (Rupert Evans). She a woman who becomes cut-off with her apparently caring in-laws and husband, but in a sinister turn of events she soon appears to be losing her mind.

Her wealthy in-laws, Elizabeth (Bafta-winner Annis) and Frederick (Tim Pigott-Smith) have invited the couple to move into a cottage they have bought just a walk from their own huge country house.

Hidden agendas?
Suddenly, Ruth’s cosy life and aspirations as a teacher and for travel with her husband are derailed – ‘I’m not ready for the good life yet,’ she tells Patrick, dreading isolation in the country.

But Ruth becomes unexpectedly pregnant and the Little House becomes home. After a traumatic caesarian birth, she struggles to bond with her baby son. When she appears to have burned the infant with a cigarette, she is diagnosed with post-partum psychosis.

What works so well with the rich scenario created here is that it is hard to know whether Ruth, with her family history of depression, is really endangering the child. And Elizabeth is an ambiguous figure, with her own daughter having transplanted herself and her children to Canada and having nothing to do with her mother.

Family mystery
When Elizabeth says to Frederick, ‘Little Ruthie’s going to have our baby,’ we wonder about hidden agendas.

The Little House is a wonderful diversion from the usual crime-thriller fare, there being no detectives, serial killers, high-concepts or convoluted plots in sight. It’s a fascinating family mystery, acted with subtlety. And after all the polite, middle-class exchanges, it reaches a full-blooded climax.

• crime zapper •

  Law & Order: UK signed off with another strong, twisting episode on Thursday. How often do you see a drama in which the heroes cock it up and an innocent victim is murdered as a result? A nurse insisted she was the victim of a mystery stalker who threw her down a flight of stairs. Brooks and Devlin thought she was making it up to get the police to take her fears more seriously. When she was then quickly murdered, and Brooks and Devlin ended up giving conflicting evidence in court, it gave viewers a powerful story of shifting moral standpoints. It’s been a cracking series, and happily ITV has already commissioned another 13 episodes. Of course, it is a tried and tested formula and ITV are just reheating stories from the US original series, but the cast – Bradley Walsh, Jamie Bamber, Harriet Walter, Ben Daniels and Freema Agyeman – are all good, and the stories are absorbing and pacy.

Just finished Stuart Neville‘s The Twelve – for once, the hype was bang on. ITV or the Beeb should drop their obsession with twee period favourites like Poirot and George Gently. This pulverising novel about a former Belfast hitman seeking to placate and avenge the ghosts of the 12 people he murdered is a genre-busting powerhouse of a book, but with moments of tenderness. If made well, The Twelve would be a headbutt in the face of UK television’s cosy crime scene.


What the hell is Lucas (right) up to in Spooks? It goes without saying that he isn’t the man we thought he was – people rarely are in Section D. But series nine is heading for some showdown between Lucas and his boss, Harry. And knowing what a high casualty rate the show has (Matthew Macfadyen, Keeley Hawes, David Oyelowo, Rupert Penry-Jones and Hermione Norris, among others, all having been fired or murdered), will it be the end of the line for Richard Armitage (Lucas) or Peter Firth (Harry)? ‘Shocking consequences’ are being promised by the Beeb…

Sherlock Holmes Versus Dracula PREVIEW

Halloween Night, 9pm, BBC Radio 7
Rating ★★★

Tis the season to be creepy, and BBC Radio 7 gets into the Halloween spirit nicely by disinterring this old 90-minute face-off between two of the most popular characters in fiction.

‘An appealing problem, most appealing,’ Sherlock Holmes calls the incidence of the ghostly schooner that sweeps into Whitby Bay with only the dead captain on board. The man, who has such a look of horror on his face that he barely resembles a human, has lashed himself to the wheel. The rest of the crew is nowhere to be seen, though a large dog escapes the vessel when it reaches the dock.

Holmes then learns that the only cargo carried is 50 large boxes of dirt, and that the dead captain has two puncture marks on his neck.

Bram Stoker wrote Holmes out of Dracula’s story!
For once the audience is ahead of the great sleuth and Dr Watson, so familiar are we with ‘The Adventure of the Foreign Schooner’, as Holmes calls it so prosaically. This allows the American writer Loren D Estleman, and Glyn Dearman who adapted his story for radio, to have fun linking the vampire to Holmes.

The conceit is that Watson, in his narration of Holmes’ adventures, is trying to put the record straight after that ‘spurious monograph’ by the Irishman Bram Stoker, which fails to credit Holmes for his role in the downfall of the count.

Blood-stopping screams
The action moves from Whitby to what Holmes called ‘infamous Hampstead Heath’, whose infamy has nothing to do with pop stars cruising there, but with the ‘sanguinary count’ and his chums attacking children.

John Moffatt is Holmes, Timothy West plays Watson and David March is Dracula. This is an old production, heard most recently on Radio 7 in 2007, but the whole thing is pitch perfect for Halloween night, full of foggy boats, stiff upper lips, creaking hinges and blood-stopping screams.

By the way, Radio 7 is a treasure house of great crime plays and book readings, from HRF Keating and Edgar Wallace to Mark Gatiss and John Harvey. And they’re planning something special for Sherlock Holmes’ birthday in January 2011.

Agatha Christie Poirot: Hallowe’en Party PREVIEW

Ariadne and Poirot (pics ITV)

Rating ★★★

Wednesday, 27 Oct, 8pm ITV1

Since 1989 ITV has produced more than 60 Poirot’s with David Suchet as the smug Belgian.

There is no mystery in concluding that Agatha Christie’s sleuth has his fans, that a hardcore of viewers relish Suchet’s performance along with the period of steam trains, sensible cardies and roaring hearths.

Equally, there are many left bored by the formula, finding the implausible dramas as satisfying as solving sudoku puzzles, and ‘Ercule Poirot with his GCSE French (‘Oui,’ ‘N’est-ce pas?’ etc), references to himself in the third person (‘Poirot will find out all’) and all-round pomposity simply naff.

C’est la vie (that’s enough school French, Ed). But whether the series is considered a trick or a treat, it is back with a decent seasonal mystery that should delight devotees. Hallowe’en Party is dark and atmospheric, as should be expected from a script by Mark Gatiss (who not only co-wrote and starred in Sherlock this summer, but has his History of Horror on BBC Four, and is soon to be seen in The First Men in the Moon, also on BBC Four).


It features the return of one of Poirot’s few female friends, crime writer Ariadne Oliver in an almost affectionate performance again by Zoë Wanamaker. Timothy West, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Deborah Findlay are among the suspects.

It is Ariadne who is attending a children’s Hallowe’en party at Woodleigh Common when  a young girl, Joyce, brags that she once witnessed a murder. Everyone pooh-poohs her story, but when the child is found with her head submerged in an apple-bobbing tub, Ariadne knows who to call.

Poirot realises that even if Joyce was a fantasist she may not have lied about the murder, and that if he can work out which of three recent local murders the girl was talking about, he will be close to the killer.

Armchair sleuths will have to strain every little grey cell to fathom out whether a forged codicil in will, a missing au pair or a secret love affair is the key. 

Only six or seven Poirot stories remain to be filmed, and from what David Suchet says it is not only older viewers who will be saddened that the production line is coming to an end. ‘I’m now getting letters from seven year olds who have suddenly got hooked!’ the actor said. ‘I recently sent photographs to two eight year old twins who come home from school and make their mother put on Poirot! In the same month I sent a box of chocolates to someone who was 94 in an old people’s home. Almost 90 years difference in age yet they are watching the same programme.’

Go figure.   

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