Third degree: Tony Black

In the second of a new crimetimepreview series, habitual crime writers are tied to a chair and have the bright light shone in their face. Here, one of Scotland’s grittiest crime novelists, Tony Black, author of the Gus Dury series, comes clean…

Your favourite British crime series or thriller on TV?
I was really taken in by Prime Suspect, and have to say, I did like David Jason’s crumpled Frost, but I think what Life on Mars reminded me was how ballsy the 70s cop shows were… The Sweeney, The Professionals and so on, but you have to go some to beat the classic Minder. Pure klarse.

Favourite US crime series or thriller on TV?
TJ Hooker… I’m shitting you, has to be The Wire.

Top TV cop?
Of all time? Hmnnn… have to think about that. Not Frank Poncherello anyway…

Which unfilmed book/character should be made into a TV drama?
Alan Guthrie’s Two-Way Split is on the way there, can’t wait to see it.

If one of your novels were filmed, who would you cast to be the hero?
I’d love to see Dougray Scott play Gus Dury… he’s got the swagger and he’s a

What do you watch with a guilty conscience (or what’s your guilty pleasure)?
Not much … there’s so much crap out there these days that I make sure I want to
see anything I make the effort to watch.

Least favourite cop show/thriller?
The Bill… it’s a soap opera set in a polis station.

Do you prefer The Wire or The Sopranos?
Tough one… but The Wire by a nose.

Marple/Poirot or Sherlock Holmes?
Only Jeremy Brett’s Holmes. No thanks to the others.

Wallander – BBC or the original Swedish version?
I actually watched a few of the Kenneth Branagh ones – I’ve hated him in
everything else, remember Wild West (hahahaha!), but quite liked this.

Your favourite crime/thriller writers?
Peter Temple, Ken Bruen, Andrew Vachss.

Favourite non-crime/thriller author

Favourite crime movie or thriller?
Killing Zoe or Bullitt.

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

• Tony Black’s latest novel, Long Time Dead, finds Gus Dury back on the skids, helping a pal who suspects dodgy goings-on in a recent murder.

Specsavers CWA Crime Thriller Awards

The suspense is getting to the suspense industry. This Friday the year’s best crime novels, films and TV shows pick up their coveted Daggers (the event, presented by Marcus Brigstocke at London’s Grosvenor House, goes out on ITV3 next Tuesday). The TV Dagger looks particularly tight.

Here are the screen nominations:

The Film Dagger:
District 9 (Sony Pictures)
Inception (Warner Bros.)
Sherlock Holmes (Warner Bros)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Momentum Pictures)

The TV Dagger:
Ashes to Ashes, Series 3 (Kudos)
Luther (BBC)
Sherlock (BBC)
Wallander, Series 2 (Left Bank Pictures)

The International TV Dagger:
Damages, Season 3 (Sony Pictures)
The Good Wife, Season 1 (CBS)
Wallander, Series 2 (Yellow Bird Films)

The Best Actress Dagger:
Glenn Close (Damages)
Hermione Norris (Spooks)
Keeley Hawes (Ashes to Ashes and Identity)
Maxine Peake (Criminal Justice)
Sue Johnston (Waking the Dead)

The Best Actor Dagger:
Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock)
Idris Elba (Luther)
Kenneth Branagh (Wallander)
Philip Glenister (Ashes to Ashes)

The Best Supporting Actor Dagger:
Laurence Fox (Lewis)
Matthew Macfadyen (Criminal Justice)
Rupert Graves (Sherlock)
Tom Hiddleston (Wallander)

The Best Supporting Actress Dagger:
Dervla Kirwan (The Silence)
Gina McKee (The Silence)
Saskia Reeves (Luther)
Sophie Okonedo (Criminal Justice)

Thorne: Sleepyhead PREVIEW

David Morrissey as Tom Thorne (all pics: Sky)

Sundays from 10 October, 9pm Sky1

Rating ★★★½

Viewers with a soft spot for David Morrissey may be distressed by Sleepyhead, the opening story from this smart, vivid Tom Thorne series.

The actor is battered, bruised, drugged, seen throwing-up and falling off a building. That’s all before he gets one more pasting. Even his wife, novelist Esther Freud, said he looked rough when she saw the show.

But what also grabs the attention in this screen version of novelist Mark Billingham’s popular detective series is its visual pizzazz and excellent cast of strong characters.

London’s multi-ethnic streets and its evolving wastelands round Stratford make a rich backdrop, while a smattering of vintage country music (the choice of Morrissey and Billingham) give the show a freshly different texture to that of staples such as Inspector George Gently or Poirot.

Eddie Marsan on top form

Morrissey is battered but dominant, while being assured enough as an actor (and executive producer here) to share plenty of screen time and plot with a terrific cast. Eddie Marsan stands out as Thorne’s bitter colleague, Kevin Tughan.

Natascha McElhone (Californication, The Other Boleyn Girl) as Dr Anne Coburn adds humour and a frisson in her scenes with Morrissey, while Aidan Gillen (The Wire, Identity) is spiky as pathologist Phil Hendricks, who shares a dangerous secret with Thorne.

Stephen Hopkins, the Emmy-winning director who made episodes of 24 as well as The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, injects pace and a wonderful eye for the new London.

Sky may not exactly churn out new drama, but coming after last year’s impressive version of Martina Cole’s The Take, Thorne shows ambition and grit where the Beeb and ITV sometimes seem plodding with period cops and dull procedurals.

Locked-in syndrome
Billingham’s many fans will be familiar with Thorne’s first-ever case and the author’s ingenious idea of having his serial killer inducing a state of ‘locked-in syndrome’ in his victims, in which they can think and see but not move or feel.

The psycho does this by applying pressure to points on the neck and head. He fails several times, killing his victims, before successfully inflicting a state of living paralysis on Alison (Sara Lloyd Gregory). Thorne finally realises their man wants to paralyse rather than kill his victims.

The drama echoes the book in feeding us Alison’s frantic, bitter and humorous internal thoughts, which gives the story emotional punch (Billingham doesn’t like victims to be used as mere plot points).

She holds the key to finding the killer, but as Thorne investigates he is taunted by messages that could only be emanating from a serial killer he once caught and who is now dead. 

Scaredy Cat
Here the Sky version veers away from the novel and becomes a little convoluted. But there’s no doubting that the interplay between the main characters is psychologically tense and compelling. 

Sleepyhead is to be followed immediately by another three-part story, Scaredy Cat (starring Sandra Oh, above), and the author along with Morrissey, are hoping these will clock up enough viewers for more to be commissioned.

Morrissey clearly has the multi-tasking capabilities of a Swiss Army knife, having launched his own production company (Tubedale Films), recently appeared in Red Riding, Five Days, Poirot and U Be Dead, while helping to get Thorne off the ground.

With such a punishing schedule, it’s a wonder he looks so good in Sleepyhead.

Hawaii Five-0 REVIEW

Rating ★★★

UK transmission: 2011, Channel to be confirmed

Let’s get one thing straight before the purists go all sniffy about remaking old classics – Hawaii Five-0 was no classic.

Fondly remembered for Steve McGarrett’s swaying bouffant, yes. For the opening music, for ‘Book ’em, Danno,’ certainly. But let’s not get misty-eyed about the original (1968-80) with Jack Lord, James MacArthur and Kam Fong. Check out YouTube (below) for a reminder of acting that made Crossroads look like the Royal Shakespeare Company.

McGarrett (Alex OLoughlin) and Danno (Scott Caan)

Exec producer Peter Lenkov calls this year’s CBS model a tribute, and as an hour of glam-action primetime the new show hits the mark.

The pilot is a mega-bucks affair with helicopter ambushes and explosions, but it actually takes the trouble to set up the characters too.

Aussie actor Alex O’Loughlin, star of such TV backwaters as Moonlight and Three Rivers, gets the lead as McGarrett, an all-round hardman from special military outfits, given the job of running Hawaii’s new law-enforcement task force. His agenda is to get the villain (Buffy‘s James Marsters) who killed his father in the prologue.

Where Jack Lord was po-faced and by-the-book, O’Loughlin cracks a smile occasionally and is a bit more gung-ho.

James Caan’s son, Scott, is a personable Danno – so-called because that was how his three-year-old daughter pronounced his name, we learn. The Hawaiian characters – Daniel Dae Kim as Chin and Grace Park as a butt-kicking Kona (replacing the lumbering Kono in the original) – are more feisty and interesting than their prototypes.

The McGarrett-Danno deal is more of a buddy/odd couple routine here, some of which is cheesy and some of which raises a smile (Danno’s ringtone for his ex-wife is the screeching violins from Psycho).

The opening story, something to do with Chinese gangsters and people trafficking, is ludicrous, but for a glossy procedural with adorable scenery and explosions, the Hawaii Five-0 re-boot does the job.

It even has a revamp of the original music and McGarrett says, ‘Book him, Danno.’ Only the quiff is sadly gone.

The show was due to go out in the UK on Bravo next month, but the programming powers have pushed it back to next year somewhere ‘on the Sky platform’.

Whitechapel ITV1 PREVIEW

Rating ★★★

ITV1, 9pm Monday 11th October

A man’s been pinned to a snooker table with a bayonet. Another’s had his buttocks slashed. The cops are on the take, and victims are afraid

(Pics: ©ITV)

to talk…

It’s just like the old days when the Krays cruised East London dishing out backhanders and beatings.

In Whitechapel 2, no sooner has a copycat Jack the Ripper been dispatched by Rupert Penry-Jones and Philip Davis, then – gawd help us – but a Kray twins novelty act turns up on the manor.

Whitechapel’s first outing, last year, was fresh and spiky enough to be an engrossing yarn about the East End’s notorious serial killer.

The announcement that ITV was going to attempt the formula again – this time regurgitating the Kray killings – suggested they were flogging a horse now floating lifeless in the Thames.

But while some of the gloss has inevitably gone from the premise, Whitechapel 2 still cherishes the folklore and ‘geezer aesthetic’ enough to make this an atmospheric jaunt into the past.

Chelsea smile
Writers Ben Court and Caroline Ip showed with their original an appreciation of East End history and atmosphere, and that comes out well in the detail of Whitechapel 2. Identifying a corpse by the ‘last’ (or the wooden mould) of his handmade shoe, or recounting the gang punishment known as a Chelsea smile (a cutlass is used to slice a victim’s mouth wide open) are throwbacks that give this drama its vintage, violent texture.

Once again the major part of Whitechapel’s good points are the characters. In the original, Penry-Jones as uptight DI Chandler struggled to prove himself worthy of fronting the Ripper investigation. This time, it is his sergeant, the streetwise and sour Miles (Phil Davis), who appears out of his depth and rattled as some strangely reminiscent slashings and a murder suggests the Krays stalk the East End once again.

Steve Pemberton returns as the oddball amateur sleuth Buchan, breathlessly reliving every juicy detail of every lengendary murder. It is he who predicts the next killing will echo that of Jack The Hat McVitie in 1969, much to Miles’s annoyance.

‘Rock stars of murder’
‘The Krays were the original British gangsters,’ Buchan says, almost salivating. ‘They invented the firm. They were the rock stars of murder.’

It’s all complete tosh, and not as good as the first series. But the three leads still spark off each other, and the whole production captures a strange duality between past and present, using period footage and sound eerily.

One scene has Miles taking Chandler to an East End pub. He asks his boss to look round and tell him what he sees. In the gloom sit old lags with busted noses and facial scars, looking like ghosts from forgotten gang fights.

And you can just imagine two stocky blokes in Italian suits marching into the pub and freezing every conversation.

Third degree – Sam Millar

Belfast crime-writing ace Sam Millar is the first novelist to be hauled down to 
crimetimepreview headquarters for questioning. Sam has published six novels, 
including The Redemption and The Darkness of Bones, as well as the 
award-winning memoir On the Brinks. Here he reveals how Sean Penn 
might have portrayed him on the big screen…
Your favourite British crime series or thriller on TV?
Life on Mars. I was totally hooked from the very first show. One of those 
rare classics that only hits our screen every decade, if we’re lucky.
Favourite US crime series or thriller on TV?
Always loved The Sopranos, but then came the brilliant The Wire, and
knocked them off the top of my list. 

Top TV cop?
Columbo. Oh, one more thing...
Which unfilmed book/character should be made into a TV drama?
Er, my Karl Kane series of books, which accidentally, are being considered 
as we speak by Carnival Films. Sorry for such grovelling self-promotion.
If one of your novels were filmed, who would you cast to be the hero?
Liam Neeson, would be the obvious choice, as Karl Kane is a Belfast PI. 
But when Warner Brothers bought the rights to my memoir, On The Brinks
they were looking at Sean Penn to play me, which I found slightly bizarre, 
if highly complimentary.
What do you watch with a guilty conscience?
Mad Men. I hate smoking and sexism, but I’ve become totally addicted 
to the show and all its vices and non-pc jargon.
Least favourite cop show/thriller?
Heartbeat. A paradox title for a show with very few actors’ hearts 
actually beating.
Do you prefer The Wire or The Sopranos?
The Wire (sorry, Big Tony).
Marple/Poirot or Sherlock Holmes?

Wallender – BBC or the original Swedish version?
The Swedish version. I find it grittier, even though fellow Belfastian, 
Kenneth Branagh is in the BBC adaptation and doing a fine job.
Your favourite crime/thriller writers?
So many great ones, it’s hard to be selective. Cormac McCarthy, 
Nelson DeMille, Jon Land, Declan Hughes, and two powerful crime 
writers to watch out for in the future: Leigh Russell (Road Closed
and James Thompson (Snow Angels). 
Favourite non-crime/thriller author?
Graham Greene. Timeless writing.
Favourite crime movie or thriller?
I have two. No Country for Old Men, even though it wasn’t 
half as good as the book, and The Long Good Friday, arguably 
the best British gangster movie ever made, for my money.
You’ve been framed for murder. Which 
fictional detective do you want to call up?
Jim Rockford. He mightn’t get me off, but 
he’s cheap!

Sam Millar’s latest Karl Kane novel is 

‘The Dark Place’

The ’20s roar again – in America, anyway

Lucky viewers in the US will see Martin Scorsese’s prohibition saga Boardwalk Empire tomorrow night. Sky is tight-lipped about when – and where (Sky1, or a pay-movie channel?) – UK viewers will get a glimpse. The Independent suggests Blighty won’t be treated to the most anticipated (and perhaps expensive) TV series of the year until 2011. Next Easter, anyone? It’s enough to make you reach for a bottle of hooch – or place an order for the boxset.

DCI Banks: Aftermath PREVIEW

Rating ★★½

Stephen Tomkinson as Banks (pics ITV)

ITV1, starts Monday 27 Sept, 9pm

Stephen Tompkinson has thrived in comedy and light drama roles. Stretching back to his breakthrough in Drop the Dead Donkey, to All Quiet on the Preston Front, Brassed Off, playing an alien in Ted and Alice, and most recently as the Bristol vet relocating to Africa in Wild at Heart.

Now he’s taking on DCI Banks in Aftermath, ITV1’s grisly serial killer two-parter, based on Peter Robinson’s popular crime novels.

Coming soon after Shameless creator Paul Abbott’s complaint about ‘gutless’ TV bosses casting the same old faces in new dramas, has Tompkinson been miscast here?

The best that can be said is that he looks the part of a senior detective. Acting it is another matter.

He veers between softly spoken to staring belligerence with nothing in between, apart from one toe-curling moment when he tries to schmooze Annie from the complaints office into bed (the ad break couldn’t come quickly enough).

In the shadow of Frost

 Two PCs find a shocking scene

Apart from David Jason, few actors have convincingly moved from comedy to crime drama – and Frost rarely had the unpleasant multiple rape and murder dealt with here.

Tompkinson‘s not helped by the erratic way his character is written. One minute he’s rowing with Annie (Andrea Lowe, Coronation Street), the next trying to get jiggy with her, then threatening a doctor and tangling with a victim’s father.

Banks isn’t so volatile in the novels, but UK television is addicted to cramming in as many incidents and twists as it can to stop viewers hitting the remote, reducing Banks to a mess of scowling confrontations.

Breakout novel – Aftermath
And ITV, which seems to lack faith in this pilot, has given it just two 60-minute instalments in which to make us like Banks and resolve a mulitude of criminal storylines.

Killer’s wife (Charlotte Riley)

Aftermath came out in 2002 and was Robinson’s breakout novel. It is basically the kind of police procedural adored by TV bosses, and the author does try something interesting with the format.

It starts with the arrest of a rapist and killer called Marcus Payne when two officers are called to a ‘domestic’ at his home. Crime solved, the story then flashes backwards and forwards to explore Payne’s crimes and the fallout from them.

The missing fifth woman
ITV1’s version echoes the novel’s jolting, violent opening. But we soon realise there is much more to come about the nosy neighbour across the way, the killer’s battered wife, and Banks’s dealings with the careerist Annie, who is investigating the female constable who put Marcus Payne into a coma. And where is the missing fifth young woman?

It’s a lot to sort out in the second and final part. And that’s one of Aftermath’s problems. There’s too much going on, too many murders and storylines.

The other is that Paul Abbott is right. TV bosses should stop framing the same old faces for every new crime drama in town.

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