• Crime Zapper – The Shadow Line, The Killing, Midsomer Murders, Raymond Chandler •

• The Beeb has announced a fine cast for its new conspiracy thriller, The Shadow Line. The seven-part drama will star Chiwetel Ejiofor (American Gangster, Endgame), Christopher Eccleston (Lennon Naked, Doctor Who), Sir Antony Sher (The Wolfman, Primo, God on Trial) and Stephen Rea (The Crying Game, Breakfast on Pluto).
It starts with discovery of a body, shot at close range, that turns out to be that of Harvey Wratten, a major UK crime boss. Harvey was just out of jail after serving two years of an 18-year sentence, having obtained a rare Royal pardon. Investigating the death is DI Gabriel (Ejiofor), who has just returned to duty after being shot in a bungled police operation. He now has a bullet lodged in his brain and suffers from amnesia. On the other side is Joseph Bede (Eccleston), a Wratten associate who turns his back on his legit business for one last massive drugs deal. As Gabriel investigates the intrigue gets more complex and all the players’ motivations blur.
The BBC2 series, scheduled for later this year, has been written by Hugo Blix, who says, ‘The Shadow Line is about a murder investigated by both sides of the line – cops and criminals – and the opposing methods they use to solve it. But the real line is the morality within each character and how far they will go before they cross it.’  
Also starring: Rafe Spall (Pete Versus Life, Desperate Romantics, He Kills Coppers), Kierston Wareing (Fish Tank, The Take, Five Daughters), Lesley Sharp (Afterlife, Clocking Off), Sean Gilder (Shameless), Freddie Fox (Worried About the Boy), Malcolm Storry (The Knock), Richard Lintern (The Bank Job), David Schofield (The Take, Pirates of the Caribbean), Stanley Townsend (Zen, Sherlock Holmes) and Eve Best (The King’s Speech, Nurse Jackie). 

• Tucked away on Saturday nights on BBC4 is The Killing, a first class crime series from Denmark. It follows the course of a 20-day murder investigation, and begins with Sarah Lund looking forward to her leaving-do at the Copenhagen police department. She is moving to Sweden with her son and fiancé. However, her plans are shattered when, on her last day, she checks out a missing teenage girl, Nanna Birk Larsen, who is found raped and murdered, and Sarah is forced to head the investigation. It’s a powerfully told story, atmospheric, with strong, believable characters. Sofie Gråbøl as Sarah is a down-to-earth, quietly impressive protagonist and far more realistic than, say, DI Anna Travis in ITV’s Above Suspicion. The whole, terrific series is currently available on BBC iPlayer.

DS Ben Jones (Jason Hughes), DCI Tom Barnaby (John Nettles) and DCI John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon). (Pic: (C) Bentley Productions)

• So farewell, Tom Barnaby. Having solved more than 200 murders in the crime-ravaged villages on his Midsomer beat, the detective – played, of course, by John Nettles – bowed out on 2 February watched by 7.1m viewers. The 67-year-old actor’s final line was, ‘What now? I’m going to have my cake and eat it.’ Midsomer Murders, a valuable brand overseas for ITV, won’t be laid to rest, though. Tom Barnaby is being replaced by his cousin, John (former Life of Riley actor Neil Dudgeon), who appeared in Nettles’ final two-hour episode. Meanwhile, are Taggart‘s days numbered? It got off to a shocking start on ITV last month, with just 2.6m viewers. Even allowing for the fact that the episode had already been shown in Scotland, that’s not healthy for the UK’s longest-running crime series.

• I enjoyed A Coat, a Hat and a Gun, BBC Radio 4’s documentary about Raymond Chandler, which is accompanying the Philip Marlowe dramatisations this month. One gem in it was a 1958 snippet of a recording of a tipsy Chandler talking to Ian Fleming, an admirer of his, for a BBC programme months before he died. It is apparently the only record of Chandler speaking. He mentions the possibility of Marlowe getting married and the ‘struggle’ he would have to wed a woman who found his profession seedy. Was Chandler being playful? Judge for yourself. The BBC has the whole discussion here.


Robbie (John Michie) and Jackie (Blythe Duff) on the trail of a suspect (all pics: (C) ITV)

Rating ★★★½

ITV1, Tuesday, 11 January, 9pm

It’s the longest-running crime series on UK television, having cracked mud-derrr cases since Mrs Thatcher was running the country. So you’d expect more of a fanfare for the return of Taggart, but typical of its no-nonsense Glaswegian characters, the show is back with a minimum of fuss.

DCI Matt Burke (Alex Norton)

ITV and its commercial sister across the border, STV, have a hard time letting some crime shows expire. So Morse without Morse has become Lewis, and Midsomer Murders is about to stagger on interminably once actor John Nettles departs – Tom Barnaby handing over to his cousin, John (played by Neil Dudgeon). The Beeb has played the same game with Silent Witness.

And Taggart, of course, went through a similar regeneration, to borrow Doctor Who‘s terminology. Former boxer turned actor Mark McManus was the original Taggart when the series launched in 1983, the writer and creator Glenn Chandler having famously got the inspiration for the characters’ names from the headstones in Glasgow’s Maryhill cemetery.

From McManus to MacPherson and beyond
McManus died in 1994 at the age of 59, but the series – the brand – was kept going, with Mike Jardine (actor James MacPherson) initially becoming the central character.

Investigating a young doctor’s murder – DI Ross and DS Reid

When MacPherson left in 2002, the show became an ensemble piece with its current trio – the newcomer DCI Matt Burke (Alex Norton) joining regulars DS Jackie Reid (Blythe Duff) and DI Robbie Ross (John Richie).

If this all sounds as appetising as reheating an old dinner, then it’s worth remembering that curry takeaway can taste pretty good the next day. Which is another way of saying Taggart‘s stories are well-crafted and the cast is terrific and believable.

Glasgow torture
The new series is aiming to ‘get back back to basics’ by being gritty and recapturing the show’s original dry humour. Without doing anything earth-shattering, it certainly succeeds in revitalising itself.

Bad Medicine starts off with a grisly torture scene, a man being cut with a Stanley knife, burned with a cigarette and finished off with a nail gun (I wonder if Glasgow Tourist Board are big fans of the series). The victim turns out to be a newly-qualified doctor who made and sold Ecstasy to pay his way through medical college.

Old pals fall out – DI Casey (Reece Dinsdale) and DCI Burke

The story gets a spicy twist with the arrival from London of two swaggering detectives, DI Casey (Reece Dinsdale), an old mate of Burke’s, and loudmouth DS Morretti (Steve John Shepherd).

Siobhan Redmond
There’s plenty of needle between the Scots and their southern ‘colleagues’, which is great to watch, and the tension is ratcheted up when more bodies turn up. Gritty this certainly is, with torture, three mud-derrrs and two suicides. As the title song says, ‘This town is mean’.

Alex Norton is fun to watch as the old-school bulldog of a cop, happy to knock suspects about, and who here is reminded by his boss, Chief Supt Karen Campbell (Siobhan Redmond), that a ‘DCI’s pension is pretty good these days’.

Joining the cast is Davood Ghadmi as pathologist Duncan Clark, who gets a welcome in the form of a rollicking from Burke.

Robbie leans on a witness

But no less important than Burke, are Jackie Reid and Robbie Ross. She is the detective who has little more to look forward to than a night in with a bottle of Pinot Grigio, and he’s the type, according to her, who goes for a ‘one-night stand you then throw over the next day for the footie’.

All of which neatly captures the bleakness and humour of these characters. Welcome back.

Third Degree: Ann Cleeves

Award-winning British novelist Ann Cleeves is a serial crime writer, with her collections including amateur sleuths George & Molly, Inspector Ramsay, the soon-to-be-televised Vera Stanhope, and the recent Shetland Island Quartet. crimetimepreview pulls her in for questioning about her TV habits…

Your favourite British crime series or thriller on TV?

This is very tricky.  I loved Morse, but having watched those again, they do seem very slow.  I thought the recent working of Sherlock Holmes was magnificent – witty, fun and capturing the essence of the original.

Favourite US crime series or thriller on TV?

I enjoyed the old series like NYPD Blue and Homicide: Life on the Street.  I’ve never watched The Wire, but everyone tells me I should.

Top TV cop?

Taggart – can’t remember the actor’s name [Mark McManus] but he was fantastic.

Which unfilmed book/character should be made into a TV drama?

Martin Edwards wrote a series set in Liverpool with sixties song lyrics as titles and a solicitor hero.  I think Liverpool would provide a brilliantly atmospheric back-drop and Harry Devlin is a great character.

If one of your novels were filmed, who would you cast to be the hero?

One has – the Vera Stanhope books have been adapted for ITV with Brenda Blethyn as the hero – they’ll be broadcast in the spring.  I wouldn’t have considered Brenda as Vera but she’s magnificent.  I hear her voice in my head now when I’m writing dialogue.

If the Shetland books were filmed I’d like David Tennant to be Jimmy Perez.  He’s known for his manic energy but I think he could do intense stillness very well too.

What do you watch with a guilty conscience (or what’s your guilty pleasure)?

US Law and Order.  Absolutely bizarre plot lines.

Least favourite cop show/thriller?

Rosemary and Thyme.

Do you prefer The Wire or The Sopranos?

I haven’t seen either.

Marple/Poirot or Sherlock Holmes?

Holmes.  I really don’t get Christie.

Wallander – BBC or the Swedish version?

Absolutely the Swedish version.  The BBC film looked beautiful, but lost the sense of Kurt’s team, which is so important in the books.

US or British television crime dramas?

British, but only because I don’t know much about US contemporary programming.

Your favourite crime/thriller writers?

I love the Nordic writers – I’m chair of judges for the CWA International Dagger so I get sent loads of wonderful books. My favourite at the moment is Johan Theorin – wonderful!

Favourite non-crime/thriller author?

My favourite book is still probably Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain Fournier  (The Lost Domaine in translation).  I read it for French A Level and it’s romantic and a perfect book for an adolescent. I still find it moving and mysterious.

Favourite crime movie or thriller?

Fargo.  I love the snow.

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

Helen Mirren from Prime Suspect.

Ann’s Shetland Island Quartet of stories reached its climax with Blue Lightning, which is available in paperback. Hidden Depths, starring Brenda Blethyn as DI Vera Stanhope, should be broadcast by ITV1 in the Spring.

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