Third degree: Ian Rankin

Ken Stott as Rebus with Claire Price as Siobhan Clarke

WE’VE dragged one of Britain’s major crime practitioners in for questioning. Multi-award-winning Ian Rankin is the creator of Edinburgh detective inspector John Rebus, the tenacious but chippy hero of bestsellers such as Black and Blue, Fleshmarket Close and Resurrection Men. The character was turned into a series by STV with first John Hannah and then Ken Stott portraying him. ITV filmed Rankin’s standalone novel Doors Open in 2012. After retiring Rebus in Exit Music, he introduced his readers to Malcolm Fox in The Complaints, before bringing Rebus back in 2012’s Standing in Another Man’s Grave.

Your favourite British crime series or thriller on TV?

Edge of Darkness.

Favourite US crime series or thriller on TV?

Hill Street Blues.

Do you watch much TV these days, and if you do, which crime series are you enjoying?

I don’t watch much TV. Other media seem to get in the way. I find myself stockpiling DVD box sets for that elusive rainy day.

All-time top TV cop?

Top TV cop has to be Jack Regan. No, wait – Columbo. Or Jane Tennison…

Which unfilmed book/character should be made into a TV drama?
I’d love to see Adrian McKinty’s Troubles-era Northern Ireland books on TV or film.

Rebus has already been filmed by ITV, but what about Malcolm Fox? Which actor would be good playing him?

I never have a clear idea of my main characters’ faces and physiques so it’s hard for me to say who
the perfect actor would be. Sean Connery once told me that if he’d been 20 years younger he’d have jumped at the chance to play Rebus.

Least favourite cop show/thriller?

I thought TV made a right hash of Liza Cody’s terrific Anna Lee books.

Do you prefer The Wire or The Sopranos?

The Sopranos probably edges it, despite the ending.

Marple/Poirot or Sherlock Holmes?

Never a huge fan of Agatha. So it has to be Sherlock. I was very impressed by the modern reworking of the character and stories.

Wallander – BBC or the Swedish version?

Ooh, tough. Branagh is always watchable, even when not doing very much. But I have to plump for the original, don’t I?

US or British television crime dramas?

Robbie Coltrane as Cracker

I like both, but I’m feeling patriotic, so I’ll say UK. Prime Suspect, Life on Mars, Cracker – all British, all class.

Your favourite crime/thriller writers?

To be comprehensive, it would be a very long list. It would include Ruth Rendell, Lawrence Block, Leo Malet, Michael Connelly, but also Pascal Garnier (who I’ve just discovered), etc etc…

Have you read a crime novel that’s really knocked you out lately?

Pascal Garnier’s The Islanders. Is it crime? Psychological suspense? His books are like non-Maigret Simenon novels.

Favourite non-crime/thriller author?

Again, there are so many: Muriel Spark, Thomas Pynchon, Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson…

Favourite crime movie or thriller?

The Third Man. Or The Godfather. Or The Maltese Falcon. Maybe The Long Good Friday. Or Get Carter…

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

It would have to be Rebus. He knows the territory and has a pretty solid record.

Ian’s latest Rebus novel is Saints of the Shadow Bible, which is out now in paperback. For all the latest on him, check out

Follow @crimetimeprev

Doors Open starring Stephen Fry, Douglas Henshall, ITV1 PREVIEW

Rating: ★★★½ 

: Boxing Day, 9pm

Story: After an evening’s drinking with Professor Gissing, an art expert, and banker Allan Cruickshank, self-made millionaire Mike McKenzie and his friends dream up a plot to rip-off one of the most high-profile targets in the country – Edinburgh’s private art collection owned by a national bank.

If Doors Open were an album, it would be an easy-listening release – pleasant, amusing and fairly slick.

So, this is an amiable two hours, with Stephen Fry, Douglas Henshall and Lenora Crichlow as the lead crooners in a heist drama, based on Ian Rankin’s 2008 novel.

It’s good to see Fry stepping away from his gadgets and QI to play what he would surely have become had he not been seduced by showbiz – a professor.

Art expert Prof Gissing sees himself as ‘more an elitist than a snob’, and it’s a role that’s barely a stretch for Fry. Gissing is the prime mover among a group of friends who decide to take a walk on the wild side and rip off valuable works of art during Edinburgh’s Doors Open day.

Ian Rankin and Stephen Fry on set

Douglas Henshall and Lenora Crichlow
This is an occasion when landmark buildings open their doors to the public and invite them to look round areas that are usually off-limits. A gallery’s warehouse housing a bank’s  collection of masterpieces is the trio’s target, with the plan being to replace the originals with forgeries.

Each member of the threesome has a reason to snatch a picture. Gissing is outraged that the collection he has made for the bank is now being sold from under him, so he wants to ‘liberate’ some artworks.

Selfmade millionaire Mike (Douglas Henshall, soon to be seen in new detective drama Shetland) is losing the woman (Lenora Crichlow) and the painting he loves to the man responsible for selling the bank’s collection, Bruce Cameron. He’s not prepared to have both swiped from him. And Allan (Kenneth Collard) has been sacked by the bank.

Gangster Charlie Calloway (Brian McCardie)
The plot is stirred nicely when Mike suggests they link up with Charlie Calloway, a gangster with whom he was at school. It’s a mighty risk – and provides complications galore, particularly as Charlie wants a painting of his own to pay off a debt to Mr Big – but Charlie has the muscle and know-how to help these amateurs.

Mike and Laura finds the heist get complicated

It’s snappily directed, pacey, has a cool soundtrack, and was adapted for TV by James Mavor and Sandi Toksvig. On the crime-genre Richter scale it’s much closer to Ealing Studios than Tarantino, but that makes it nicely in season for Christmas viewing.

Lost in the plot – Allan
The mechanics of any heist usually makes for gripping action, hence the caper genre being so full of hit movies – The Killing, The Anderson Tapes, The Thomas Crown Affair, Reservoir Dogs, The Italian Job, Ocean’s Eleven and so on.

One thing that is lost in all the twists and double-crosses of this one is Allan’s story. We find out what happens to Mike, Gissing and Laura at the end, but Allan is discreetly forgotten.

Still, Doors Open manages to keep the tension high. And there’s a couple of sweet twists just to ladle on the jeopardy – and romance.

Cast: Dougie Henshall Mike McKenzie, Stephen Fry Professor Gissing, Lenora Crichlow Laura Stanton, Kenneth Collard Allan Cruickshank , Brian McCardie Charlie Calloway, Elliot Cowan Bruce Cameron, Rab Affleck Hate, Paul McCole Glenno, Jordan Young Jonno

Follow @crimetimeprev

Imagine on Ian Rankin, BBC1

Ian Rankin (right) with presenter Alan Yentob. Pic: BBC

Rebus fans must catch this Imagine documentary on Tuesday on BBC1, entitled Ian Rankin and the Case of the Disappearing Detective (10.35pm). A nice portrait of the hugely popular Edinburgh author, the show is also a compelling insight – for writers and and wannabe writers – into the writing process. It features a video diary by Rankin that begins in January this year as he embarks on writing Standing in Another Man’s Grave, the comeback for his best-loved, alcohol-drenched, now-retired detective hero Rebus. It begins with Rankin dredging through notes scribbled on restaurant napkins and other odd bits of paper, and newspaper clippings, looking for an idea. What often grips him is ‘anything to do with old cases,’ Rankin says. ‘I’m a bit lazy. I read at least one newspaper a day and pretend it’s research.’
He also reveals he’s never watched an episode of ITV’s Rebus series, starring John Hannah and then Ken Stott, because he didn’t want the actors to influence his writing of the character (as happened with Colin Dexter and Morse). Happily, Rankin comes across as grounded, curious about the world, friendly and witty.

• Meanwhile, over at ITV, two good-looking dramas have been signed up. Life of Crime is described as a ‘gritty, urban’ drama, starring Hayley Atwell as a risk-taking policewoman who becomes obsessed with catching the killer of a 15-year-old girl. Interestingly, the three-parter tracks her character over three decades as she rises through the ranks. Murder on the Home Front sails close to the ground covered by the recent The Bletchley Circle, but it is based on true events taken from the memoirs of Molly Lefebure, who was secretary during the Second World War to the Home Office Pathologist and pioneer of modern forensics, Keith Simpson. The Blitz offered good cover to murderers and criminals, and our hero, Dr Lennox Collins (Patrick Kennedy), has his work cut out getting his superiors to accept his new thinking on chemical tests, preserving crime scenes and the workings of the psyche. Molly Cooper will be played by Tamzin Merchant.

Follow @crimetimeprev

Case Sensitive series 2, starring Olivia Williams PREVIEW

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

Rating: ★★★½ 

ITV1: Thursday, 12 July, 9pm

Story: Teacher Ruth Blacksmith has left her husband, Jason, for troubled musician Aidan. Jason has gone into an alcoholic decline, losing his job at the same school as his wife. Ruth wants a divorce and is looking forward to a new life with Aidan, until the love triangle results in murder.

The good news for anyone who enjoyed the first series of Case Sensitive is that Olivia Williams and Darren Boyd are back as Zailer and Waterhouse. The bad news is that there is just one two-part story to feast on.

The two detectives feature in the acclaimed psychological suspense novels of Sophie Hannah, and her story The Other Half Lives is the basis for this new mini – or should that be micro? – series.

Tormented love twisted into obsession is the theme here, as teacher Ruth is involved in a passionate affair with Aidan, a piano teacher who is a gifted pianist on the quiet. The trouble is that the husband Ruth is divorcing to be with Aidan – Jason – has just turned up stabbed to death.

Charlie lets off steam at a kick-boxing class

Love is in the air
Initially, Aidan and Ruth’s plight is a little hard to empathise with. He is a bit cold and creepy, and she seems impulsive and ditzy. However, the skill in the storytelling opens up new dimensions to the characters and their pasts that make this a tragic, sensitive mystery.

But the two-parter’s most intriguing storyline is actually what is going on between colleagues DS Charlie Zailer and DC Simon Waterhouse. Love, or lust, is in the air, as signified by the fact that the pair is constantly covering up the tension between them by talking testily at cross purposes, and that Zailer is primed to chew out any young female she spots talking to her deputy – watch out, DC Amber Williams.

Charlie’s lack of reason is a nice counterpoint to the jealousy or possessiveness that has led to Jason’s murder. By the end of the drama, viewers will certainly want to know what will happen next between the two detectives.

Olivia Williams and Darren Boyd

Suspect – did Aidan kill his lover’s husband

Olivia Williams looks and acts pretty much like you’d imagine a typical modern police detective to be – not overly glam, good at her job, but having made personal sacrifices that may be taking their toll on her happiness. And together with Darren Boyd, here stepping away from his normal comedy roles, they make a believable, contrasting couple. An audience of nearly 7million certainly warmed to them in series one.

However, the BBC and ITV have been coming under criticism for their lack of ambition in drama, as the huge success of Scandi-noirs such as The Killing and The Bridge, along with the big US successes from HBO, expose how small-scale most UK series are.

And it is a shame that Sophie Hannah’s novel has to be crunched into two hours, which creates some head-scratching moments (would Charlie visit the husband even though no crime’s been reported, on the basis that he might harm Ruth in the future?).

Tensions rise between Charlie and Simon

Make British crime dramas longer and more ambitious
Ian Rankin, one of the UK’s best crime authors (whose Rebus books were not brilliantly translated to TV), recently said he was jealous of the 20-hours the Scandinavians could devote to a series, leaving plot, characters and location ‘room to breathe’.

The Other Half Lives is a good mystery – and will be switched on to eagerly by sport-saturated viewers this summer – but how much better would the much-loved books of British crime authors be if they were given more room to breathe?

Cast: Olivia Williams DS Charlie Zailer, Darren Boyd DS Simon Waterhouse, Eva Birthistle Ruth Blacksmith, Peter Wight DI Proust, Theo James Aidan Harper, Emily Beecham Mary Trelease, Ralph Ineson DC Colin Sellers, Christina Chong DC Amber Williams

Follow @crimetimeprev

The A-Z of Crime ITV3

Julie McKenzie, ITV’s current incarnation of Marple. Pics: ITV

Lee Child, Agatha Christie and Dan Brown are all in the frame for this fascinating and witty look at what makes crime telly so popular.

Crime and thriller dramas are clearly the most watched genre on TV, so it’s no surprise ITV3‘s seasons covering cops and killers in the run-up to the CWA Daggers in recent years has become a fixture in the schedules.

This year the coverage kicks off with a  with a six-part series called The A-Z of Crime, starting on ITV3 on Thursday, 1 September, at 9pm.

Mark Billingham, Denise Mina and Ian Rankin
It has rounded up popular crime writers, policemen, actors and experts for questioning about how the tension, thrills and mystery are created and why they have such appeal.

So, starting with A for Action, Mark Billingham, creator of the Thorne mysteries on Sky1, says, ‘Raymond Chandler famously said that if you were stuck for where to go in a book, you’d just have someone walk through the door with a gun.’

While Denise Mina, whose The Field of Blood hit BBC1 on Bank Holiday Monday, says, ‘The perfect example is Dickens. If you think of physical reaction to something like A Tale of Two Cities, your heart is racing, you’re sweating and you can’t hear people speaking to you. That is perfect narrative propulsion.’

Ian Rankin

The inspiration for Anna Travis
Ian Rankin, creator of Rebus, chips in, ‘[In] the traditional English detective story, there’s not a huge amount of action, there’s intellectual debate and there’s sleuthing but [Agatha Christie] doesn’t need an explosion every five minutes. So I’m not sure crime fiction needs an explosion every five minutes.’ 

Lynda La Plante reveals how she was inspired to create Anna Travis in ITV’s Above Suspicion series, her popular successor to Prime Suspect‘s Jane Tennison. She occasionally gets invited to murder scenes by detective acquaintances (who clearly know how to show a woman a good time), and saw a young female detective throwing up at what was her first scene of death.

When she next met the young detective, the woman had changed physically, toughened up, and that alteration was what fascinated La Plante.

Lynda La Plante

Lee Child on creating Jack Reacher
Subjects covered in the opener include Alibi, Alcohol, Bending the Rules, Dan Brown and Agatha Christie, the world’s ultimate crime author with four-billion sales. Julia McKenzie, the actress currently breathing life into Jane Marple on ITV1, has interesting insights into the character – ‘Marple’s only got one weapon – conversation. People think she’s harmless, but she’s not.’

Lee Child, the creator of the phenomenally successful Jack Reacher books and who crops up under C, relates his remarkable transformation from out-of-work TV exec to super-selling author. Losing his job meant ‘becoming a novelist was forced onto me’, he says. He also says he will always write Reacher and is not attracted to the idea of writing standalone stories.

The final D in the programme is for the Daggers, the Crime Writers Association’s awards for the year’s best novels, films and TV shows. This year’s event is on Friday, 7 October, at the Grosvenor House hotel in London, and will be broadcast on ITV3 on the following Tuesday.

%d bloggers like this: