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.

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.

Watching the new detectives this autumn

Two popular Brit detectives make the leap from the novel to small screen soon – Mark Billingham’s spooky cop Tom Thorne and Peter Robinson’s DCI Banks.

Sky1 has filmed David Morrissey in two Thorne mysteries, the original story in the series, Sleepyhead, and the second, Scaredy Cat.

Sleepyhead, the chilling story of a serial killer who induces in his victim a conscious state of paralysis, also has Natascha McElhone, Aidan Gillen and Eddie Marsan among the cast (Sandra Oh from Grey’s Anatomy will appear in Scaredy Cat). For Sky1, Sleepyhead is one of its marquee shows this autumn and details of its broadcast time will be out soon.

Meanwhile, ITV1 has lined up one of its favourite actors, Stephen Tompkinson, to breathe life into Banks. Whether Tompkinson, star of such family faves as Wild at Heart, has the oomph to cut it as a cop pushed to his limits by yet another serial monster in Aftermath should be interesting.

UK telly honchos are always seeking the holy grail of the next Morse, or even a Wexford. But the listings mags are filled with forgotten entries for such flops as Rebus, ITV miserably failing to capture the cussedness and self-destructiveness of Ian Rankin’s brilliant character.

We’ll soon know whether Peter Robinson, Mark Billingham and their many readers will enjoy a better result. In the meantime, for a taste of Thorne’s first outing, check the grisly trailer on Mark Billingham’s site.

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