Sunday, 24 July 2011

Lee Child and Dennis Lehane – crowd pleasers in Harrogate

Lee Child was undoubtedly the star of this weekend's Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. Not only did he win Crime Novel of the Year for 61 Hours, but half of Yorkshire seemed to be packed into the assembly rooms at the Old Swan Hotel (where Agatha Christie hid out) to hear his Room 101 routine with journalist Christina Patterson.

His pet hates for the room of doom were dodgy reviews, writers who claim false credibility as being ex-FBI, ex-copper etc, the line 'There's been a murder' in any cosy mystery (totally unrealistic), the detective's sidekick (a dramatic get-out-of-jail card for writers, as the sidekick usually crops up to save the hero), and passages in which protagonists glance in a mirror and describe themselves for the reader (totally fake, according to LC, who has never once offered a description of Reacher apart from 'tall and white'). He also suggested to a sceptical audience member (and there were many) that Tom Cruise could just work as Jack Reacher on the big screen.

In addition, Child found time to mention his new ebook, out on 15 August – Second Son is a 12,000-word short story about Reacher as a 13 year old.

Dennis Lehane wrapped up the event on Sunday, and was as popular as Lee Child, pulling in several hundred further fans, authors and would-be writers. Boston's finest was in great form, revealing how Clint Eastwood wore him down into agreeing to allow Mystic River to be filmed (and how the Hollywood legend is addicted – to smoothies). Alistair MacLean and Elmore Leonard are two of the biggest influences on him, Lehane said.

Moreover, he said he knew one of his novels was working as a movie when he heard that a cinema-goer had so objected to the noise being made by another during the film that he stabbed him with a potato peeler. Well, Lehane's stories do get under your skin.

Next year's event will be on 19-22 July, and already Mark Billingham, Harlan Coben, John Connolly and Charlaine Harris have been announced.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Single-Handed creator Barry Simner's dark Irish stories

Owen McDonnell as Sgt Jack Driscoll. Pic: ITV
The opening two-part story of ITV1's Single-Handed concludes tomorrow night (Thursday, 21 July, 9pm). This is really a superior crime drama, with a heart-rending performance from Stephen Rea.

'Stephen Rea is magnificent,' says Single-Handed's creator Barry Simner. 'I wrote the bloody thing but his performance makes me weep. I was very pleased that he agreed to do it because he is quite fussy about scripts. But he did say to me that he thought this was a story that needed to be told. He’s an extraordinary actor.'

My full interview with Barry is on the Huffington Post, in which he talks about Single-Handed, why he writes dark, uncomfortable dramas, and why US television crime series are better than Britain's. 

Monday, 18 July 2011

Body of Proof with Dana Delany PREVIEW

Megan Fox (Dana Delany). Pics: Alibi
Rating ★★½

Alibi (in the UK, from Tuesday, 19 July, 9pm

Desperate Housewives' Dana Delany stars as Dr Megan Hunt on the latest series in the necro-fetishism genre.

Megan was a hotshot neuro-surgeon who was making a bad job of being a mom and having a career when she smashed her car. The resulting numbness in her hands ended her surgical career, and we find her in the medical examiner's office in Philadelphia. Here she examines corpses to a jaunty rock soundtrack in a sleek laboratory.

It's all very CSI cum Silent Witness (though not as gratuitously gloating on the viscera as the latter). There's a lot of medical-babble dialogue, and like Dr Gregory House, Dr Hunt is Sherlock Holmes in a white coat.

A momentary glance at a corpse at the crime scene and she's saying, 'Our victim has blunt force trauma to the back of the head, preliminary indication of drowning, no scrapes or abrasions. She fell into the river clean after being hit, river temperature puts it about two hours ago. Oh, and whoever attacked her did it on the west side of the river.'

In the pilot she makes plenty of enemies trying to solve the riddle of the jogger's death, while the story ladles on how her professional slickness contrasts with her personal ineptitude, as the doc tries to get close to her estranged daughter, struggling to work out what birthday present to get the 12 year old.

This is all extremely corny, while Megan's presence during police interviews with witnesses, where she butts in and asks aggressive questions, is unbelievable. This, of course, creates plenty of sparks with detective Bud Morris (John Carroll Lynch). Also on her case is chief medical examiner Dr Kate Murphy (Jeri Ryan).

Sonja Sohn, outstanding as Kima in The Wire, must have found her role here, as Bud's detective sidekick, utterly flat and routine in comparison.

That sums up the opening episode. It finishes with Megan pinning the crime on a character we haven't met until the last scene, while the detectives stand by in awe.

Made by ABC, Body of Proof has none of the edge or sharp character delineation of an HBO series. It's been renewed a second season the US, so Dana Delany must have her fans, but there's little sign of fresh life in this procedural.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Law & Order: UK lead writer Emilia di Girolamo

Emilia di Girolamo, the lead writer on series 5 of Law & Order: UK, is promising some of the most explosive and heart-rending stories yet seen on the show.

The drama, which was spun-off from the classic US series and takes the original American storylines as the basis for each London-based episode, has now become a popular drama fixture for ITV1
(on Sundays, 9pm).

Here Emilia reveals how she has shifted the tone of this latest series, giving the lead characters, DS Ronnie Brooks (Bradley Walsh) and DS Matt Devlin (Jamie Bamber), more emotional depth, and how season five is heading for a huge cliffhanger finale. Her episodes in this series are 'Safe' (ITV1 Sunday 17 July, 9pm), 'Deal' and 'Survivor's Guilt'.
Emilia, who lives in Hastings, also discusses her career in scriptwriting. Having got a PhD in the rehabilitation of offenders and worked with prisoners, she decided to become a writer and spent years struggling for a break into television. She also reveals which popular BBC1 series she would love to write for.

Now that her work on series 5 and the next series of Law & Order: UK is finished, Emilia is writing an original drama series for Clerkenwell Films/ITV, and working exclusively with prisoner Jeremy Bamber to tell the story of the White House Farm murders, for which he has so far served 25 years in prison, while maintaining he is innocent.

Ronnie and Matt (Bradley Walsh and Jamie Bamber). Pics: ITV
The new series delves into Matt and Ronnie’s lives – can you give some idea what’s in store for them?

Both Matt and Ronnie will go on extraordinary journeys this season. For Ronnie, it all starts in episode 2, 'Safe', when he discovers his estranged daughter is pregnant and continues into season 6. Ronnie is faced with questioning his past and present behaviour and the fallout of one tiny moment in time will leave Ronnie emotionally challenged as never before. Matt also goes on his own journey this season and finds it hard to control his anger when faced with one particular offender – Mark Ellis, a cold blooded drug dealer played brilliantly by Charles Mnene. In this role Charles is like something out of The Wire – utterly convincing and very, very frightening.

Friday, 15 July 2011

The Persuaders! make a comeback on BluRay

It had Tony Curtis and Roger Moore, a great John Barry theme tune, and cost more money than Lew Grade could really afford, but The Persuaders! (with exclamation mark) is still fondly remembered today.

Curtis was the rough diamond Brooklyn millionaire Danny Wilde, while Moore was Lord Brett Sinclair, suave aristo who'd never worked a day in his life. Together they dealt with fast cars, gorgeous women and criminals who evaded the usual arms of the law. While the series was popular around the world, it failed to excite ABC viewers in America, and flopped after one season.

Good news is that there is going to be a special 40th anniversary launch of the show on BluRay in September in London, attended by Roger Moore. Should be interesting to see what the ex-007 has to say about their famously tempestuous relationship on set.

And what ever happened to the Steve Coogan/Ben Stiller version announced in 2005, though the Hugh Grant/George Clooney take announced after that sounds even better. Perhaps some Hollywood honcho will catch it on BluRay and get the project rolling again…

Monday, 11 July 2011

Inside Men and Mafia Month

Inside Men, the story of a multi-million pound robbery by four ordinary men, is being filmed in Bristol by the BBC. Steven Mackintosh (Camelot, Most Sincerely) is John, manager of the cash counting house. Joining him in the scam is depot security guard Chris (Ashley Walters – Outcasts, Five Days), and forklift driver Marcus (Warren Brown – Luther, Single Father).

Kierston Wareing – who is in every other crime drama these, recently notching up The Shadow Line, Luther and The Runaway – plays Marcus's wife, Gina, who also is involved in the robbery.

Written by Tony Basgallop, whose credits include Worried about the Boy and Hughie Green, the twist here is what happens to these guys once they step out of their comfort zones. Each has a reason for joining the heist. Chris has an alcoholic mother, young girlfriend and hopes the money will make his life better. Marcus borrowed money to set up a hairdressing salon that crashed.

Tony Basgallop says, 'Inside Men is the story of an old-school cash robbery but with the "geezer" element removed. It's a study in what it takes for a modern man to step up, assert himself, and have the courage to take something by force. How do you go from being a beta male to an alpha male, and what are the implications on your everyday life?'

• In August Sky Atlantic has an offer you can't refuse – Mafia Month. It's a motley bunch of programmes, including TV mobster movies Lansky (1999) with Richard Dreyfuss and Falcone (1999, aka Excellent Cadavers), starring Chazz Palminteri and F Murray Abraham, the story of murdered Sicilian prosecutor Giovanni Falcone. There's a documentary, Mob Stories, in which five high-ranking gangsters talk publicly for the first time. Season three of The Sopranos is also throwing its weight around in there. The FBI is doing its best to build a RICO case against Tony, who is bugged and under surveillance. This season  includes the classic – some say the finest – Sopranos episode, Pine Barrens. Written by Boardwalk Empire creator Terrence Winter and directed by Steve Buscemi, it's the one with Paulie and Chris lost in the sub-zero New Jersey forests.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Single-Handed with Owen McDonnell PREVIEW

Owen McDonnell as Sgt Jack Driscoll. Pics: ITV
Rating ★★

ITV1, from Thursday, 14 July, 9pm

A crime show about a cop in a lonely Irish outpost could have been gaggingly twee, all country eccentrics and lush scenery. Happily, Single-Handed avoids such guff, instead emerging as a pretty decent Thursday night six-parter.

Owen McDonnell is Sgt Jack Driscoll, as this second series – commissioned by ITV and RTE – picks up on the decent success of last summer's launch (which was watched by four-million viewers).

Driscoll lives above his station house in rural Connemara, and as this two-part opener, The Lost Boys, begins, we immediately see what a cop-of-all-trades he is, chasing a suspect, taking his own crime-scene photos, and buying the tea for the station.

Stephen Rea
Stephen Rea guest stars
Simone Lahbib joins this series, and with Sean McGinley as the conniving pub owner Costello and Stephen Rea guest starring, the opening episodes pack some strong performers.

While Jack looks into the death of the reclusive Seamus Devlin, a visitor from England, Brain Doyle (Matthew McNulty), turns up with Gemma (Simone Lahbib) looking for his father. Are he and Jack related?

Jack takes the visitors to meet his mother, Eithne (Ruth McCabe), and is stunned when she reveals she did have an older brother named Sean. This unknown uncle of Jack's was sent away to an industrial school when he was 10 and effectively erased from the family's history.

Child sent away for stealing chocolate
Brian, Jack and Gemma
Here the story gets interesting. Jack digs into old police records to discover why his newly discovered relative was sent away to the brutal Christian Brothers. He is shocked to find Sean had stolen some chocolate and was banished for six years.

Eithne says post-war Ireland was a different place to today's country, and is pained that anyone wants to review the past. As episode one concludes, Jack finds a frightened, hostel-dwelling Sean, played by Stephen Rea in a stunningly contrasting role from his recent turn in The Shadow Line as the murderous villain Gatehouse.

In the best crime fiction the crimes often just provide the backdrop to interesting life stories, and that is the case in Single-Handed. This isn't chocolate-box Ireland, but a community with a heartbreaking past and some harmful people in the present.

Sean McGinley as Costello
Sean McGinley is the former bent police inspector
Such as the ominous Costello (Sean McGinley), the former bent police inspector who's just taken over the local pub. Iago-like, he manipulates Jack's deputy, Finbarr (David Herlihy), pouring poison into his ear, and eventually blackmails him.

And, yes, the Connemara scenery is wonderful. But it's just the backdrop as Jack, in episode two, faces a terrible dilemma over his new-found uncle.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Law & Order: UK series 5 PREVIEW

Jamie Bamber as DS Devlin tracking a suspect at St Pancras. Pic: (C) ITV Plc
Rating ★★★½

ITV1, from Sunday, 10 July, 9pm
CrimeTimePreview has only been knocking around television's mean streets for 10 months, but in that time it's already watched three series of this London-based spin-off from America's longest-running crime series.

In a month that Sky1 starts showing the 20th and last season of the original Law & Order, ITV1 is hurriedly serving up another helping of its reboot of the winning formula – the last having come our way in March.

With a 20-year backlog to call on, ITV can keep remodelling the stories from the skilfully written US series for quite a while yet. And so long as it has its appealing cast, punchy location shoots and well-adapted dramas that are intriguing and often enticingly ambiguous, the show will be worth a gander.

Dominic Rowan and Peter Davison
New team members Peter Davison and Dominic Rowan
Series five welcomes new faces Peter Davison as new Crown Prosecution chief Henry Sharpe and Dominic Rowan as prosecutor Jake Thorne (Ben Daniels and Bill Paterson having moved on).

Rowan has the beefier role, Thorne being a working-class lad who was sharp enough to become a barrister. He's also a ladies' man on the quiet, not that we see much of that side of him in the opening episode.

Where Ben Daniels could be a bit earnest, Rowan is grittier and gets off to a good start in The Wrong Man, in which he feels his way into breaking a conspiracy of silence among hospital staff over a higher-than-usual number of untimely deaths.

Freema Agyeman
Breaking the conspiracy of silence
A young woman, Suzanne, is brought into A&E with flu-like symptons, but dies after treatment. A senior nurse blows the whistle to DI Natalie Chandler (Harriet Walter), and DS Ronnie Brooks (Bradley Walsh) and DS Matt Devlin (Jamie Bamber) have a hard time trying to work out whether a crime's been committed, and if so, was it negligence or malicious.

The best episodes of Law & Order are good at showing how hard it is to get at the truth, and this opener – guest starring James Fox as a distinguished doctor – is murky, with faked medical credentials, an alcoholic doctor and misguided professional loyalties.

Once the detectives establish that Suzanne was given codeine, which it was clear would have fatal consequences when mixed with her medication for depression, Brooks and Devlin have their smoking gun.

Gun rampage and a missing toddler
The one false note is when Rowan in court asks the defendant to empty his pockets. This is a nice coup de theatre, but would it happen in real life? Years of watching courtroom dramas teaches us that lawyers shouldn't ask questions to which they don't know the answer. Rowan can't know what the defendant has in his pockets, so he is perhaps being unrealistically reckless.

James Fox
Quibbles aside, it's a cracking start to the series, and there's much to look forward to. The partnership between council estate boy Brooks and the educated, dapper Devlin humanises the stories, and lead writer Emilia di Girolamo says this series will delve into their emotional lives.

This series will also see prosecution team Alesha Phillips (Freema Agyeman) and Thorne struggle to get to the truth behind a missing toddler, a gun rampage and the brutal murder of a much loved couple asleep in their new home. It will finish with a major two-parter that di Girolamo promises will be 'challenging' and features 'stunning performances' from Bradley Walsh and Jamie Bamber.

Cast: Bradley Walsh DS Ronnie Brooks, Jamie Bamber DS Matt Devlin, Harriet Walter DI Natalie Chandler, Dominic Rowan Jacob Thorne, Freema Agyeman Alesha Phillips, Peter Davison Henry Sharpe, James Fox Dr Edward Austen, Frances Tomelty Sister Logan

Brooks and Devlin