The Crime Thriller Club, ITV3, with Bradley Walsh

Rating: ★★★★

ITV3: starts Monday, 15 September, 9pm

JUST WANTED TO GIVE  a shout for this returning crime magazine show, presented by Bradley Walsh. It’s a fun and interesting hour going behind the scenes of new series – tonight they’re taking a glimpse at The Interceptor, starring Trevor Eve and Jo Joyner – profiling top writers and talking to actors and crime authors.

It’s all part of the build-up to the CWA Crime Thriller Awards in October, one of the biggest gong shows of the year for crime fiction and screen dramas.

I watched them filming an instalment last week because I’d been invited to go on the show and take part in its short quiz section. Stephen Tompkinson was also in the studio talking about DCI Banks, and author Mark Billingham was discussing new books.

I called on the services of Ali Karim, Literary Editor of Shots Magazine, to be my team mate because

Ali Karim and myself in the Green Room

he’s so knowledgable about authors – he knows Lee Child, among many, many others, and has met Stephen King. He even got into the role by dressing as Heisenberg from Breaking Bad.

It was a laugh watching the show being made at Cactus Studios in Camberwell, London. Bradley Walsh is great fun as host, and is of course a good all-round choice for the show as he was the mainstay of ITV’s Law & Order: UK until recently.

Anyway, despite Ali’s expertise and my TV knowledge things didn’t go according to plan for us during the quiz. Our moment in the limelight comes later in the series, so in the meantime enjoy tonight’s review of Lucie Waterhouse’s Before We Met and the Club’s profile of the brilliant thriller writer Robert Harris.

Host Bradley Walsh with author Peter James and Peter Davison in an upcoming edition

Check out these links…

TV Daggers – who should win
Crime Thriller Awards 2014
Shots Magazine

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DCI Banks – how good is Stephen Tompkinson as the ITV1 cop?

DC Blackstone, DS Jackman, DI Morton and DCI Banks. Pics: ITV

As the last DCI Banks story in the current series begins on ITV1, writer and blogger Pat Nurse writes about liking the drama, while being less enamoured with its star…

It  takes time to draw me into a new crime series, and so it was with ITV’s DCI Banks. Stephen Tompkinson is not my favourite actor and I’ve never felt  the urge to watch any of the other shows he’s been in. Ultimately, what led me to view the current series was the book Bad Boy by author PeterRobinson, which piqued my interest.

It was one of those two-for-one summer deals on novels at my local supermarket.I chose Val McDermid’s Trick of the Dark, which is a standalone novel away from her Wire and the Blood series, and the Inspector Banks novel without making the connection to the TV show – probably because I’d never seen any more than the previews advertising the TV series.

Caroline Catz and Stephen Tompkinson

When the current series began, I made sure to watch it and I wasn’t disappointed. It has  intrigue, mystery and suspense, but it’s not exactly groundbreaking. Banks is branded as a typical clichéd Yorkshireman – grumpy,  down-to-earth, loves the moors, doesn’t suffer fools and he loves jazz music. He will be a cantankerous old git when he retires. He is more than halfway there already.

Fast-paced, good plots
The show is fast-paced, with satisfying plots and characters real enough for us to picture them in a UK cop shop.

Banks is an old-style angry copper in the modern world of policing. He plays by the book but hates it and it tweaks it occasionally to progress his investigation. He is a maverick but his team follows. 

However, DCI Banks the series isn’t as edgy as the books owing to Tompkinson’s overwhelming presence. The character has become larger than Robinson’s original creation thanks the the actor’s interpretation of him. I get Annie’s attraction to him in the book but not in the TV character. Sexy and charismatic are not Tompkinson’s middle names, but maybe that’s just me.

New addition Caroline Katz as DI Helen Morton has a touch of the obsessive about her and the complexity of her character makes her more interesting than her boss or her predecessor. She doesn’t fit in, she has no people skills, no sense of humour. She either tries too hard or not at all. She seems scared of getting close to anyone as if that would somehow demean her professionalism and go against her.

Banks and Morton in Innocent Graves

Banks v Marlowe

I soon got past expecting actor Jack Deam, who plays DC Ken Blackstone, to launch into a Tourette’s-type tirade like his alter ego Marty in Shameless, and it is testament to the actor’s skills that a few scenes in, Marty went and Ken became established.

The first episode of the final two-parter – Innocent Graves – starts tonight at 9pm and I am looking forward to it. Due to reading Bad Boy and Trick of the Dark during the summer, both books came to mind as subjects to study in the adult education literature course I’m running from January next year.

I want my students to compare and contrast both Banks, on TV and in the books, and how McDermid’s crime novel differs – and not least because her main suspect and protagonist are both lesbian – and how the crime novel has changed since the days when The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler first hit the shelves in 1946. It’s certainly come a long way since the male dominated smoke-hazy, seedy black and white, femme fatale world of Philip Marlowe.

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DCI Banks series two with Stephen Tompkinson PREVIEW

DCI Alan Banks is back leading the serious crimes team. Pics: ITV1

Rating: ★★★

ITV1: starts Wednesday, 10 October, 9pm 

Story: DS Annie Cabbot is pregnant and about to go on maternity leave, and DCI Alan Banks is going to miss her badly. But then a mysterious phone message draws him to Harrogate to search for his estranged younger brother, Roy.

Banks is back for the first of six new episodes. Series one didn’t create a huge splash, but Stephen Tompkinson, who plays Banks, has a quite a following from comfy family fare such as Wild at Heart and the drama did well enough in the ratings to be quickly recommissioned.

This story, Strange Affair, begins with an appeal from the detective’s estranged brother, Roy, in a juicy mystery that offers insights into the character’s family background.

Banks is trapped in his brother’s turmoil

Caroline Catz as DCI Morton

‘I’ve got myself into a bit of trouble and need some help,’ Roy pleads. Banks, after a tense evening with his sidekick Annie Cabbot, who’s about to go on maternity leave, shoots off to find his brother. Andrea Lowe, who plays Annie, really is expecting, but has vowed to support Banks in future cases – which should entail further romantic tension.

Banks’s disappearance causes a major problem because a woman is found with a bullet in her head and he is needed as senior investigating officer. But to complicate matters, in the glove compartment of the victim’s car is a hand-drawn map to Alan’s cottage, so Banks is a key witness.

New deputy Helen Morton should make Banks look even angrier
This delicate situation is the cause of a bust-up between Annie and her replacement, Helen Morton, who is now put in charge of the case.

Caroline Catz’s introduction to the show as Helen adds a fresh spark to the drama. A mother-of-four, she’s very efficient but is chucked in at the deep end with Banks’s loyal team, who are not happy that she treats him as a witness. It’s likely that her stern approach to policing is going to wind up Banks no end.

Banks with his parents (Keith Barron and Polly Hemingway)

Keith Barron as Banks’s dad
Also in the cast are Keith Barron and Polly Hemingway as Banks’s parents, who seem to prefer the dodgy Roy to steady Alan. However, it soon turns out that Roy’s troubles are a lot closer to Banks the copper than he could ever have feared.

Average homegrown TV police procedurals rarely stretch their characters like this, and this is a strong curtain-raiser to the series. Whether fans of Peter Robinson‘s acclaimed novels will think the series does the books justice is a different matter.

Tragic cliffhanger
Tompkinson has passion – and some powerful scenes here – but he is a bit sour to capture Banks’s charisma, stoicism and occasional sexiness.

Still, his devotees will love it, and the episode finishes with a tragic jolt, setting up the next instalment nicely.

Cast: Stephen Tompkinson DCI Alan Banks, Andrea Lowe DS Annie Cabbot, Caroline Catz DCI Helen Morton, Jack Deam DC Ken Blackstone, Lorraine Burroughs DS Winsome Jackson, David Westhead Gareth Lambert, Keith Barron Alan’s dad, Polly Hemingway Ida

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DCI Banks: Playing with Fire starring Stephen Tompkinson PREVIEW

Stephen Tompkinson is back on the case as DCI Banks. Pics: (C) Left Bank/ITV

Rating: ★★★

ITV1: Part 1 Friday, 16 September, 9pm

Story: Two bodies are found on separate canal narrowboats after a fire. Banks and Cabbot learn it was arson, but the discovery of a stash of money and a very valuable Turner painting make it hard for the detectives to work out a motive for the crime.

Do we really need another police procedural?

You know the format – Murder scene. Forensics. Where were you on the night of…? Det Insp Gruff and Det Sgt Sidekick at loggerheads. Breakthrough. Case solved.

We’ve already got Inspector George Gently, New Tricks, Scott & Bailey, Vera, Case Sensitive, Lewis and Midsomer Murders bumping into each other in the schedules. That’s without the US tsunami of CSIs, NCIS, Rizzoli & Isles, Body of Proof etc. Or Wallander (British and Swedish), or… well, you could go on. 

Stephen Tompkinson and Andrea Lowe
You’d think if a channel was going to elbow its way into this crowded crime scene with another procedural, it would come up with something breathtakingly fresh. Instead, we have DCI Banks.

Which is not bad, but it’s not dazzling either. Just more of the same.

Here it’s Stephen Tompkinson as Alan Banks, the actor seemingly cast on the basis that he is well known after the vet drama Wild at Heart, rather than for anything he brings to award-winning crime author Peter Robinson‘s often charming hero. No light and shade in Tomkinson’s Banks, however, just a lot of scowling and staring (see pics).

Love-hate – Cabbot and Banks

The chalk to his cheese – because detective and sidekick must always be ill-matched – is Andrea Lowe as DS Annie Cabbot. It is meant to be something of a love-hate relationship, but you’d need to be a top forensic specialist to detect any trace of chemistry between them for the love side of things.

Peter Robinson’s excellent novel
Watching them is quite a turn-off. She goes behind his back, he snarls at her for trying to show him up in front of colleagues. How their on-off ‘relationship’ is supposed to work is unfathomable.

But does this matter? The police procedural is now such an established template that they can be assembled with ill-fitting characters in lifeless stories and still clock up enough of an audience to be recommissioned. The first Banks series hit 6.7 million viewers, enough to bring us this new series of three two-part mysteries.

Who stares wins – Banks and Dr Aspern

The opener is called ‘Playing with Fire’, which was one of Peter Robinson’s stand-out stories. The episode opens with a man waking to find himself on fire. The blaze on a canal boat eventually leads to the discovery of two corpses.

Murder and the long-lost Turner
When a long-lost painting by Turner is uncovered, the motive for the crime becomes hard for Banks to discern. He begins to suspect the estranged family of one of the victims, Christina Aspern – particularly her father, Dr Patrick Aspern, and his weird young wife, Miranda. And this inevitably leads to conflict with Cabbot, who thinks Banks has it in for the doctor’s family.

It’s a strong story to start the series, but as usual in this format, the mechanics of whodunit override the characters. These are captivating and appealing in the novels, but flat and unbelievable on TV.

Suspicious – Miranda

It was the same with Ian Rankin’s creation John Rebus, a completely compelling maverick in the novels, who never came across in small-screen adaptations that were only really concerned with solving the crime – often the least memorable part of the books.

Detectives and sidekicks – time for a rest
This year has seen some tremendous crime dramas and thrillers, including The Shadow Line, Mad Dogs, The Field of Blood, Appropriate Adult and Page Eight, plus American shows such as Dexter, Justified and Boardwalk Empire – none of them plodding procedurals.

When the murder investigation show works, as in Prime Suspect or The Killing, it is unforgettable. But DCI Banks is a routine crime-show-by-numbers. Time for the genre to spend some time in solitary confinement.

Cast: Stephen Tompkinson DCI Alan Banks, Andrea Lowe DS Annie Cabbot, Lorraine Burroughs DS Winsome Jackman, Jack Deam DC Ken Blackstone, Colin Tierney CS Rydell, Tom Shaw DC Kevin Templeton, John Bowe Dr Patrick Aspern, Gary Cargill Jake McMahon, Marc Finn Geoff Hamilton, John Light Mark Keane, Tamzin Merchant Miranda, Jade Williams Gerry Siddons

• Crime Zapper – DCI Banks, Garrow’s Law, Silent Witness •

• OK, I admit it. I wasn’t a fan of DCI Banks: Aftermath on ITV1. It didn’t do Peter Robinson’s book justice, and its lead player, Mr Everyman Stephen Tompkinson, was too manic and just plain wrong in the part. Banks is pretty hot with the ladies in the novel, whereas on screen Tompkinson was forever ranting and looking psychotic. He seems to be in the Robson Green-Martin Clunes knee-jerk favourite zone at ITV – every part that comes along, no matter how unsuitable, being put his way. The newspaper reviews were also lukewarm, many saying it was a bit too routine a procedural. The great British viewership, however, switched on to it. Banks got higher ratings (5.6m) on its opening night than Spooks, which is impressive bearing in mind the latter’s huge fanbase and eight-year headstart. And now Left Bank Pictures has announced that there will be three new further Banks adaptations in 2011 – Playing with Fire, Friend of the Devil and Cold as the Grave (six hour-long episodes, two per story). 

• The ludicrously brief series of Garrow’s Law – just four episodes – was short but compelling, and ended with a terrific finale on Sunday. Andrew Buchan wrung tears and snot in a highly charged story as Garrow faced ruin and disgrace along with the woman he loves, Lady Sarah (Lyndsey Marshal). Apart from the central drama and Garrow’s brilliant performances in the old Old Bailey, the series has reflected on the grotesque legal system of the late 18th century – with a 12-year-old boy being hung for theft in this episode. Alun Armstrong as Garrow’s solicitor and mentor, Southouse, gave a grandstanding speech at Garrow’s trial for Criminal Conversation (adultery to us), and Sir Arthur (made very loathsome by Rupert Graves) got his humiliating comeuppance. Anyone intrigued by these stories, based on the records of the Old Bailey, may be interested in knowing more about the real cases behind the series’ dramas from its legal consultant on historical matter, Mark Pallis, who has a blog. And the Beeb has a round-up of all the buzz created by Garrow’s Law here.

Emilia Fox in Silent Witness (BBC)

• In addition to Zen with Rufus Sewell coming along on BBC1 in the first week of January, a new series of Hustle and the 14th of Silent Witness are also lined up (though no dates and times have been announced yet). Silent Witness opens with a two part story called A Guilty Mind, in which three patients die unexpectedly in the same ward of a London hospital. Emilia Fox, who plays Dr Nikki Alexander, says, ‘The case affects Nikki deeply and personally and looks at the less tangible part of pathology, which is the mind. We are used to the team finding things out through the organs and the body, but of course when it comes to the mind it’s a lot harder to deal with.’ Previews will follow on crimetimepreview.

• The Beeb has also announced another new thriller series for 2011, Stolen starring Damian Lewis (Band of Brothers, The Forsyte Saga, Life). He plays Detective Inspector Anthony Carter, who’s trying to rescue some children from child slavery. It’s to be directed by Justin Chadwick, whose credits include The Other Boleyn Girl and Bleak House.

Foyle’s War is thrashing all-comers in crimetimepreview‘s poll of 2010’s top crime series. Only Sherlock is putting up a fight, with the likes of Spooks and Poirot taking a pasting. Just 13 days of voting to go…

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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