Code of a Killer, ITV, David Threlfall


Test-tube detectives – John Simm and David Threlfall


A drama based on real events that is truly an awe-inspiring story…

★★★★ ITV, starts Monday, 6 April 9pm

ITV HAS  a fine track record at taking true crime cases and – sometimes controversially – turning them into thought-provoking, compelling dramas.

Past successes include This Is Personal: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper, Appropriate Adult and, most recently, The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies.

This latest, Code of a Killer, is the story of Alec Jeffreys’ discovery of DNA fingerprinting in the 1980s alongside its first use by Detective Chief Superintendent David Baker in nabbing a double murderer. You could say it cleverly splices the DNA of two dramatic genres – the great inventor biopic and the police procedural.

Either story has the potential to be great viewing. Here we get both.

David Threlfall and John Simm

It begins in 1983 with the murder in a small village outside Leicester of 15-year-old Linda Mann, who was raped and strangled. David Threlfall – a long way from Frank Gallagher in Shameless here – manages to be charismatic as the ordinary, hangdog detective leading the exhaustive and fruitless hunt for the killer.

Baker and his team at the second crime scene

Baker and his team at the second crime scene

Meanwhile, John Simm leaves behind his familiar dour, hard-bitten routine to play the absent-minded scientist Jeffreys. His wife is infuriated by his neglect of parental duties, but Simm’s performance brilliantly captures the lone, eccentric scientist obsessed with uncovering a decipherable method for the DNA code.

Jeffreys was the sort of boy who brought home dead cats found on his paper round to dissect on the kitchen table. As the eccentric beardy grown-up scientist, John Simm is pretty likeable, for once.

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Midsomer Murders series 17, ITV, Neil Dudgeon, Gwilym Lee PREVIEW


★★★ Killing in Midsomer may be more ingenious than a medieval torture chamber, but the drama is still as twee and genteel as a tea cosy 

ITV: starts Thursday, 28 January, 8pm

Having slain around 300 villagers since 1996 with candlesticks, arrows, toxic fungi, liquid nicotine, hemlock, Neptune’s trident, a poisonous frog and a slide projector, among other bizarre weapons, you’d think Midsomer Murders would have reached a dead end by now.

FIONA DOLMAN as Sarah in Midsomer Murders
Sarah and Barnaby’s new edition

But no, it is one of those series that staggers on long after its stars have given up the will to act in it, simply drafting in new faces to read out the lines, like Last of the Summer Wine or New Tricks or CSI.

However, when you realise that not only have UK audiences got an unquenchable liking for this mild-mannered hokum, but – holy moly! – it’s lapped up in just about every bloody country in the world, you can see why ITV keep churning out episodes. What they make of it in places such as Estonia, Iran and South Korea would be interesting to know.

The Dagger Club

And of course the Danes like it so much that the 100th episode was actually set in the country. Move over, Sarah Lund.

Anyway, DCI John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon) and DS Charlie Nelson (Gwilym Lee) return this week. As is the custom, the murders seem to have been inspired by Heath Robinson, so we kick off in The Dagger Club with electrocution by roulette wheel. Crushing and drowning are line up for future episodes. Midsomer devotees just adore these Larky murder routines.

This opener also cleverly uses the backdrop of a crime fiction festival in Luxton Deeping, which is clearly right in tune with the demographic of its core viewership. [Read more…]

Broadchurch 2, ITV, David Tennant, Olivia Colman, Jodie Whittaker PREVIEW

Spot the new faces in the line-up for Broadchurch 2. Pics: ITV

Rating: ???

ITV: starts Monday, 5 January, 9pm

Story: Probably another crime in the seaside town of Broadchurch, investigated by Alex Hardy and Ellie Miller…

OMG, this is so exciting. Broadchurch 2 is so amazing they won’t let anyone see it!

What happens next is so thrilling they don’t trust the media to view it without incontinently blabbing

JODIE WHITTAKER as Beth Latimer, CHARLOTTE BEAUMONT as Chloe Latimer and ANDREW BUCHAN as Mark Latimer Broadchurch 2
How will the Latimers fit into Broadchurch 2?

all the show’s secrets on social media within seconds of the end credits.

For the first time in my experience of working in TV publications going back a decade or two, there will be no previews of the opening episode or any that follow.

Is this a slight overreaction? When the first series launched in 2013 ITV courted publicity and reviews, and the series was a huge success, reaching audiences of nine million and winning four Baftas, two Royal Television Society awards and an international Peabody gong. Was the series spoiled by the huge level of coverage the media devoted it?

Broadchurch secrecy

All of Broadchurch‘s success was deserved. But now that Doctor Who levels of secrecy have descended on series two, it suggests the makers are perhaps putting too much stress on the drama’s twists and surprises. Broadchurch wouldn’t have won its audience if it had simply been viewed to find out whodunit.

New character beside the seaside – Sharon (Marianne Jean-Baptiste)

It was also about the quality of the acting and production and the emotional impact of the storytelling.

Writer/creator Chris Chibnall says: ‘We’re doing this because we loved how audiences connected with, and responded to, Broadchurch the first time round. We know we’ll never replicate the way the first series took hold but nonetheless we’re doing our best to ensure our story goes unrevealed, and the audience can remain unspoilered, until it’s broadcast on ITV. We’d like everyone to see the pieces fall into place (and they will) when you watch episode one on that Monday night. And for people to find out – as much as possible – together, at the same time.

‘That’s not such a crazy idea, is it?’

New faces: Charlotte Rampling and Marianne Jean-Baptiste

We can at least reveal that the familiar faces – David Tennant, Olivia Colman, Andrew Buchan, Jodie Whittaker – are joined by new characters played by Charlotte Rampling, Eve Myles, James D’Arcy and Marianne Jean-Baptiste, with the latter commenting on the show’s secrecy: ‘All I’d say is you

ARTHUR DARVILL as Rev Paul Coates in Broadchurch 2
Will the Rev Coates feature more prominently this time?

think you know what you know but you don’t know anything…’

There’s no denying it will be interesting to see how Chris Chibnall breathes life into a story that reached such a shattering climax. The show was filmed during last summer in West Bay, Dorset, with Tennant and Colman recreating their characters, detectives Alex Hardy and Ellie Miller.

But after the last series, which focused on the murder of 11-year-old Danny Latimer, Hardy’s health and career were shattered and Miller discovered her husband Joe was the murderer.

David Tennant: ‘Clever and exciting bit of writing’

Let’s leave the last scintilla of a clue to the new series to David Tennant: ‘It’s a very different type of story. I think we all found it hard to predict where Chris (Chibnall) was going to go and how he was

DAVID TENNANT as D.I Alec Hardy and OLIVIA COLMAN as D.S Ellie Miller Broadchurch 2
In deep again: Miller and Hardy

going to tell a story faithful to season one without underselling the veracity of it. It would have been ludicrous and a bit disappointing to discover another body on the beach and begin another eight episodes of whodunnit… he absolutely doesn’t do that. Tonally it’s the same show but structurally it is completely different.

‘This is a really clever and exciting bit of writing, still a thriller but not the same type. Without giving anything away, it is almost impossible to describe, but by the first commercial break people will be enthralled.’

Cast: David Tennant Alec Hardy, Olivia Colman Ellie Miller, Jodie Whittaker Beth Latimer, Andrew Buchan Mark Latimer, Charlotte Rampling Jocelyn, Marianne Jean-Baptiste Sharon,

Arthur Darvill Rev Paul Coates, Eve Myles Claire,  James D’Arcy Lee, Carolyn Pickles Maggie Radcliffe, Jonathan Bailey Olly Stevens, Tanya Franks Lucy Stevens

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Inspector Morse — Killer TV No.32

ITV, 1987-2000

‘Richards didn’t kill her, but I’ll tell you who did. Do you want to know?’ – Detective inspector Morse
‘Are you taking the piss?’ – Detective sergeant Lewis
‘No, no, I’m not. The man who killed Anne Staveley is called Sophocles.’ – Morse
‘Who’s he when he’s at home?’ – Lewis
‘Look, I want you to do a couple of things for me, and then I’ll explain everything.’ – Morse
‘… Do I know this Sophocles? – Lewis
‘Only if you loved your mother, Lewis.’ – Morse
John Thaw, Kevin Whately, James Grout
Identikit: The cases of detective inspector Morse and his sergeant, Lewis, set in the university town of Oxford.


TV schedules, particularly in the UK, are jammed with detective procedurals shot in twee locations, most of which are televisual Horlicks – Midsomer Murders, Rosemary and Thyme, etc etc etc. Inspector Morse, however, got the formula right, and remains an outstanding success that UK television honchos would today still sell their children to replicate – hence the spin-offs Lewis (based on Morse’s successor and former deputy) and Endeavour (1960s-set prequel). The picturesque setting of Oxford was not too gratingly prim, being fairly pertinent to the stories in that Morse was a product of the university (though he didn’t complete his degree). In fact, he is so sharp intellectually that it was inevitable that he should end up a loner in his profession, even baffling his sidekick Lewis most of the time, such as when he alludes to a dead woman’s oedipal predicament in the pilot (quoted above). Based on Colin Dexter’s novels and brought to the screen by Tony Warren, Anthony Minghella and Kenny McBain, the secret to the show’s success was not just the procedural/whodunit mechanics of the mysteries, but the character of Morse and John Thaw’s affecting performance. He was more than the sum of his habits, however – beer, 1960 Mark 2 Jag, crosswords and Wagner. There was always a hint of melancholy about the singleton detective that made viewers root for him. His distinctive character was evident from the very first story, The Dead of Jericho – the real ale, his looking for love (the woman he is wooing in the pilot ends up dead), the mystery of his christian name, the classical music and gruffness. To some extent there was a lack of emotional depth to the drama in that Morse’s character did not develop much beyond these traits during seven series and five specials. But the intricate stories, boldly given two-hour slots in which to unfold by ITV, and the chemistry between John Thaw and Kevin Whately as Morse and Lewis added up to a staggeringly popular formula.
Spin-offs: Lewis, a sequel starring Kevin Whately, ran for several seasons from 2006. Endeavour, the prequel starring Shaun Evans, had its pilot in 2012.
Classic episode: Second Time Around from 1991. Morse believes the murder of a retired detective may be linked to a cold case from 18 years before – an investigation Morse was involved with concerning the murder of an eight-year-old girl, and which still haunted him. 

Watercooler fact: John Thaw, who died at the early age of 60 from cancer of the oesophagus, was a hugely popular TV actor in the UK who won numerous awards for his portrayal of Morse, including two Baftas and three National Television Awards, the latter being voted for by viewers.

More of the Killer 50

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The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, ITV, Jason Watkins, Anna Maxwell Martin PREVIEW

Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
In the spotlight – when police suspicion falls on Jefferies, the media circus consumes him. Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★½

ITV: Wednesday, 10 December, 9pm; Thursday, 11 December, 9pm

Story: When Joanna Yeates, the resident of a property he owns, is found murdered, the pedantic and eccentric retired teacher Christopher Jefferies finds himself under suspicion.

ITV HAVE become specialists in dramatising true crime stories that have grabbed national headlines in recent decades. These have sometimes been controversial but usually sensitively produced.

This Is Personal: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper, See No Evil: The Moors Murders, The Widower and Appropriate Adult (about Fred West) are all recent examples.

This latest is another considered and absorbing production, following events in 2010 surrounding the murder of Joanna Yeates. It focuses on the media frenzy and vilification of the victim’s landlord, the eccentric – ‘Nutty’ as the headlines had it – Christopher Jefferies, who was wrongly arrested for the crime.

Jason Watkins is terrific in the lead

It’s an absorbing drama, with fine performances depicting how the tragic disappearance and murder

Shaun Parkes as Paul Okebu in The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies
Shaun Parkes as Jefferies’ solicitor

of Joanna Yeates ruptured the everyday normality in this little Bristol community. Jason Watkins is terrific as the pedantic, bookish and eccentrically coiffured Jefferies, hair-spraying his barnet or asking investigating plod if he should correct the spelling on the statement they are taking down from him.

Shaun Parkes is also very good as his solicitor, listening to the detectives going round in circles trying to corner Jefferies with their questions, while he seethes at the injustice visited on his client.

In one telling scene towards the end of the first of this week’s two 90-minutes instalments, Jefferies is finally released from the nick to be confronted by the media character assassination that accompanied his incarceration.

‘Based on true events’ genre

‘Weird’, ‘sinister’, ‘creepy’ scream the headlines, while even the school he work at for 34 years

Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies and Howard Coggins as Custody Officer in The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies
In custody – Jason Watkins as Jefferies

distances itself from him. In the aftermath of Hackgate, this story is another reminder of how ordinary people can get caught and minced in the grinder of media excess.

Peter Morgan, the writer behind true-life dramatisations such as Frost/Nixon, The Damned United and The Queen, among others, does a fine job of allowing the story to unfold in a sober but compelling way.

The ‘based on true events’ genre is a difficult one to do well and truthfully, but ITV have become masters of the form. I think the value of these stories is that they take us behind the wild headlines and the legal process, giving some small insight into how such dark events could ever have unfolded.

Cast: Jason Watkins Christopher Jefferies, Ben Caplan Charles Chapman, Shaun Parkes Paul Okebu, Nathalie Armin Melissa Chapman, James Lailey Dc Paul Connor, Joe Coen Dc Paul Batty, Ben Frimstone Postman, Anna Maxwell Martin Janine, Matthew Barker Greg Reardon, Carla Turner Joanna Yeates, Joe Sims Vincent Tabak, Jennifer Higham Tanja, Colin Mace Peter Stanley

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This Is Personal: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper — Killer 50 No.37

ITV, 2000
‘You mean he’s going for innocent women now’ – Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield
Alun Armstrong, Richard Ridings, James Laurenson, John Duttine
Identikit: Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield takes over the police investigation into the hunt for the 1970s serial killer known as the Yorkshire Ripper, a campaign that becomes bogged down in errors and data overload.


Dramatisation of the real-life investigation for the Yorkshire Ripper in the late 1970s, a meticulous and evocative exploration of the human miscalculations and technical shortcomings of the campaign to track down Peter Sutcliffe. Alun Armstrong puts in a powerful performance as Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield, whose health and career come under strain as the investigation stagnates, drinking and smoking his way through most scenes and going from gruff and forceful to a twitching, gasping wreck by the end of this 120-minute drama. Initially, Oldfield’s arrival seems to give the investigation renewed vigour, as he shifts it away from detectives relying on ‘instinct’ and introduces better record keeping and methodology. This approach is not popular at first, one senior officer asking sarcastically, ‘Can you catch a murderer with paperwork?’ However, the police effort is still blighted by blatant sexism (‘innocent’ women who’d been attacked and offered statements were often discounted because the Ripper was only thought to target prostitutes), along with inter-force rivalries and general confusion. As the years pass and the murder toll rises, Yorkshire police collect some 60 conflicting descriptions of the perpetrator. As one officer says, if it turns out to be Quasimodo they’ve probably got a photofit of him somewhere. And Oldfield himself says in exasperation that they’ve checked bearded men, unbearded, soldiers, sailors, engineers, agricultural workers, big men, little men… And then comes the infamous ‘Wearside Jack’ hoax tape, which throws the investigation off the scent of Sutcliffe’s stamping grounds of Leeds/Bradford towards Sunderland. The drama’s title, This Is Personal, refers to the way Oldfield took the hoaxer’s taunts personally and effectively allowed the investigation to be sidetracked. But the drama also evokes the pain and tragedy that the murder spree inflicted on the victims’ families, particularly when Oldfield promises the parents of ‘innocent’ Jayne MacDonald in 1977 to catch the teenager’s killer, a promise that loads more stress and guilt onto the detective. Apart from the killer, though, there are few baddies in this drama, just flawed individuals struggling to do the right thing – which makes it all the sadder. But the investigation was badly bungled. Before he was convicted of killing and mutilating 13 women, Sutcliffe was interviewed by police nine times, and various statements and reports pointing to him as the culprit were buried in the deluge of data coming in (computers were only just being introduced). The force of ITV’s drama was that it was sober, affecting, quite brilliantly acted (particularly by Armstong), and a world away from the clean, tidy format of most fictional cop shows.

Watercooler fact: After This Is Personal, scriptwriter Neil McKay followed up with stints on Heartbeat and Holby City, but also became something of a specialist in the far more difficult discipline of exploring real-life crimes through controversial – but award-winning – dramas such as See No Evil: The Moors Murders and Appropriate Adult (about Fred West).

More of the Killer 50

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Grantchester, ITV, James Norton, Robson Green, Morven Christie PREVIEW

JAMES NORTON as Sidney Chambers and ROBSON GREEN as Geordie Keating in Grantchester
Odd couple – Geordie and Sidney (Robson Green and James Norton). Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★★

ITV: starts Monday, 6 October, 9pm

Story: It’s 1953, and just outside the Cambridgeshire village of Grantchester, local vicar Sidney Chambers officiates at the funeral of a solicitor, who committed suicide. However, after the service, glamorous Pamela reveals to Sidney that she was having an affair with the solicitor – and his death wasn’t suicide.

IS THERE ANYTHING less edgy and enticing than another dog-collar detective?

It was only last year since that the Beeb resurrected its bland, nostalgic take on GK Chesterton’s Father Brown. And does anyone have fond memories of Father Dowling or Cadfael?

Reality has intruded on these confections, so that after all the scandals of recent years Catholic priests are now most likely to be portrayed on TV and in novels as sinister figures. It is only in comedies such as Rev and Father Ted that large TV audiences have wanted to embrace religion.

James Norton as the vicar detective

So, now we have ITV’s major new drama with a vicar as its crime-solving hero. And it’s based on a

JAMES NORTON as Sidney Chambers and MORVEN CHRISTIE as Amanda Kendall in Grantchester
In love but not together – Sidney and Amanda

series of books written by James Runcie, son of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie.

My own expectations on heading to ITV headquarters in Gray’s Inn Road to see a preview of the series along with the press contingent and the show’s stars – James Norton, Robson Green and Morven Christie – were very low. I just knew it was going to be dull and twee, but with lovely Cambridgeshire scenery.

Here I must offer a contrite confession. I was wrong. Wrong and pleasantly intrigued by the mystery and characters.

Vicar and war-tested soldier

The show’s secret is that Sidney Chambers is not some bland holy man doing God’s work on behalf of the local incompetent police force. There’s more to him.

RACHEL SHELLEY as Pamela Morton in ITV's Grantchester
Woman with a secret – Pamela Morton

The year is 1953 and Sidney has recently served in the Scots Guards during the Second World War, fighting and killing people. Now, as Grantchester’s vicar, he is in a fairly doomed relationship with heiress Amanda Kendall, sometimes wilts under the pressure to be good all the time and is willing to break rules. Most shockingly, he prefers whisky to sherry.

James Norton as Sidney is easily star of the show, playing the character with charm and vulnerability. Odd to think that while filming Grantchester he was simultaneously portraying the sadistic Tommy Lee Royce in Happy Valley. That’s quite a contrast.

Dark side of the 1950s

Grantchester‘s other strength is that it is no rose-tinted trip down chocolate box lane, like so many period dramas are. The 1950s are not shown as a romanticised lost age, but one that was unforgiving

JAMES NORTON as Sidney Chambers, MORVEN CHRISTIE as Amanda Kendall in Grantchester
Destined to be apart? Amanda and Sidney

to homosexuals – later in the series we meet closeted curate Leonard Finch (Al Weaver) – the death penalty is even more unforgiving towards those wrongly convicted, and life was pretty restricted for women, so Amanda’s aristocratic father is about to marry her off.

The opening story sees Sidney landed with a problem by one of his flock, the vampish Pamela Morton. She reveals that the solicitor Sidney has just buried was her illicit lover and that he did not commit suicide.

Sidney tries to interest local detective Geordie Keating in the claim. Robson Green plays the cynical cop with a comedy touch, and the two make a fine odd couple. We also meet Sidney’s scowling housekeeper Mrs Maguire, played by Tessa Peake-Jones.

Grantchester should be a big hit

The opener is a good mix of heartbreak, some humour and someone’s passions running amok.

Don’t get me wrong. Grantchester won’t have viewers singing Hallelujah! every Monday at 9pm, but ITV have got an awful lot right in this drama, which looks likely to be a big hit.

Cast: James Norton Sidney Chambers, Robson Green Geordie Keating, Morven Christie Amanda Kendall, Tessa Peake-Jones Mrs Maguire, Al Weaver Leonard Finch, Pheline Roggan Hildegard Staunton, Fiona Button Jennifer Chambers, Ukweli Roach Johnny Johnson, Tom Austen Guy Hopkins, Pip Torrens Sir Edward Kendall, Kacey Ainsworth Cathy Keating, Rachel Shelley Pamela Morton, Michelle Duncan Annabel Morrison

Check out these links…
James Runcie interview
ITV announce Grantchester commission

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The Suspicions of Mr Whicher 3, ITV, with Paddy Considine PREVIEW

PADDY CONSIDINE as Jack Whicher in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher
Paddy Considine as Jack Whicher

Rating: ★★★½

ITV: starts Sunday, 7 September, 9.5pm

Story: Whicher is drawn into a high‐stakes case when Sir Edward Shore, the former Home Secretary comes to him with a delicate problem.

KATE SUMMERSCALE’S engrossing non-fiction book from 2008 about detective Jack Whicher’s investigation of the murder at Road Hill House confirmed the adage about truth being stranger than fiction. Her award-winning book was gripping and powerful.

ITV cast Paddy Considine as Whicher in its 2011 drama based on that book and, while it couldn’t encapsulate all that was in the book, it was an intelligent and captivating adaptation.

Here we have a second short series of a couple of two-hour films offering further imaginings of what Whicher did after his perceived failure with the Road Hill House case, which damaged his reputation (even though he correctly suspected the correct culprit).

Whicher goes Beyond the Pale

The problem is that these fictional takes on the Whicher legend are always going to lack the impact

NANCY CARROLL as Mrs Piper in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher
Mrs Piper (Nancy Carroll)

of the real events surrounding the child murder that shook Victorian society in 1860. Having said that, ITV has tried hard to breath convincing life into the character and his world.

The films – Beyond the Pale and The Ties that Bind – are written by award-winning playwright Helen Edmundson, celebrated for her work at the National Theatre, RSC and Shared Experience, including Coram Boy and Mary Shelley.

In addition, the productions are handsomely filmed and have plenty of brooding atmosphere. In fact, many scenes are so dark and menacing you wish someone would turn up the gaslight so you could more clearly what’s going on.

Dismissed from the police

Whicher, again played by the low-key Paddy Considine, now acts as a ‘private inquiry agent’ in London, having left the Metropolitan Police. In the first film, he is approached by the former Home Secretary Sir Edward Shore to help him with a delicate problem. Which is a cheek, as it was Shore who signed the letter dismissing Whicher from the police.

Anyway, Shore’s son, Charles, has just returned from India with his young family after the Mutiny, having made his fortune. However, he has been followed home by an Indian man, Asim Jabour, who is threatening him.

Sir Edward and Charles are reluctant to give Whicher the full story behind Jabour’s presence, but simply want him to find the Indian and tell them where he is.

Whicher must confront his social superiors

There are, of course, murky goings-on here, and the story touches on British behaviour in India and

JOHN HEFFERNAN as Captain Charles Shore in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher
Captain Charles Shore (John Heffernan)

sees Whicher having to confront his social superiors as the story develops.

It’s an interesting insight into the era of Empire, and a juicy mystery. Helen Edmunson also opens up Whicher’s own story, including the past loss of his son and growing closeness to the widow Mrs Piper.

While it is still in the shade of the true story, the series is bold enough to explore the Victorian setting with skill and intelligence.

Check out these links…
Review of the original The Suspicions of Mr Whicher
Kate Summerscale on The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, Guardian Book Club

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