• 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.

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.

• 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…

Spooks new series, BBC1 PREVIEW

Lucas North and Harry Pearce (all pics BBC/Kudos)

Rating: ★★★½

BBC1, Mondays at 9pm from 20 Sept

Section chief Harry Pearce is stressed. He’s even thinking of getting married, or resigning, anything to escape the pressure of saving London from foreign nutters every week.

Who can blame him? The highest level of stress most of us have at work is looking at Facebook without being caught. As series nine of Spooks opens, Harry is still surrounded by traitors and megalomaniacs, still has to calculate how many innocent Brits he can sacrifice to stop them.

He asks Ruth, his intelligence analyst, if she ever feels she can’t go on.

‘Can’t go on, must go on,’ she says.

Dimitri (Max Brown)

New shocks for the Spooks
Too right. The last time we saw Section D, Ros was racing to save the Home Secretary when she was caught in an explosion. The new series opens with several shocks resulting from that climax, and Harry is immediately faced with personally taking revenge on someone he thought was a trusted friend.

Iain Glen’s first appearance

Actor Peter Firth has perfected a constipated look of alarm-cum-panic. ‘This is my I-want-some-good-news face,’ he says as the latest crisis looms, which looks exactly like his ‘My-buttocks-are-tightly-clenched face’, and his ‘Will-you-marry-me face’.

His mood isn’t helped by Lucas’s attempt to terminate a Somalian Al Qaeda boss, Abib, going disastrously wrong. Pirates hijack the container ship carrying Abib and Lucas, who is pretending to be a crew member. But are they pirates? And what is in the sealed container? And who is that frightened Russian prostitute?

The Russian prostitute

Sophia Myles and Max Brown
This is a cracking opener to the series, with plenty of tension and action. But there is also some fleshing out of character here, and between the shoot-outs and shouting we learn more about the principals and meet intriguing new faces.

Of which there are four – Sophia Myles is Beth Bailey, some kind of privately contracted spook who wants to join M15.

Home Secretary (Simon Russell Beale)

Typically, Lucas doesn’t think Beth is all she appears to be – which is rich coming from him, as we discover when Iain Glen lurches into the story as an ominous figure from Lucas’s past, confirming series nine’s mission to delve into hidden recesses of the characters.

Section D’s hunky he-men
Simon Russell Beale is the new Home Secretary. And Max Brown is ex-Special Boat Service operative Dimitri, who will give Richard Armitage as Lucas a run for his money in the show’s hunky he-man stakes.

Lucas is taken prisoner

It all amounts to a fine re-boot for one of the Beeb’s most avidly followed series (just check out the online Spooks communities).

As the chilled-out Home Secretary says to a rather ragged Harry Pearce at the end of this opener, ‘Until the next catastrophe.’ Which will be along every Monday for the next eight weeks.

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