Tuesday, 29 November 2011

eSeries – Silent Witness's Sam Ryan in new digital story

Silent Witness is spinning off into a new brand of digital book serials, with Sam Ryan the first detective to be reborn in an eSeries.

This is fiction published in short digital instalments – a TV series that you read. Boxfiction is the digital publisher that is releasing new episodes each week on their website, downloadable to laptops, tablets, mobile phones and e-readers.

Titan is the first of five all-new double episodes further exploring the world of Professor Sam Ryan, played by Amanda Burton in the BBC series, the pathologist who finally left our screens to return to her native Ireland. The new eSeries follows up her story.

It is written by Nigel McCrery, the former policeman turned writer who created Silent Witness as well as New Tricks.

'Authors need to face the challenge of adapting their writing to the changing demands of audiences,' he says. 'People haven’t lost their appetite for the written word, what’s changing is the form and medium in which it is consumed. I’m very proud to be the first writer to work with Boxfiction and excited by the story-telling opportunities the medium creates.'

Silent Witness's first episode on the  eSeries has just been released exclusively by Boxfiction, and a new double episode will follow each week for five weeks. The launch episode has been released for free, with each episode thereafter costing 69p to download, or users can subscribe to all ten episodes for a launch price of £5.99. The app can be downloaded for free from iTunes.

CrimeTimePreview has a guest blog from writer Nigel McCrery about the inspiration for Silent Witness and what's in store for Sam Ryan in the new eSeries.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Luther DVD series 1 & 2

DVD: ★★★½  Extras: ★★★

Cast: DCI Idris Elba John Luther, Ruth Wilson Alice Morgan, Indira Varma Zoe Luther, Warren Brown DS Justin Ripley, Steven Mackintosh DCI Rian Reed, Saskia Reeves Det Supt Rose Teller, Paul McGann Mark North

When the Beeb went to novelist Neil Cross to commission a new police drama they apparently asked for an 'iconic character', like ITV's Morse. Cross dreamed up a detective who symbolised the maverick as out-of-control avenger in Luther.

Detective chief inspector John Luther is a marauding, passionate and at times furious cop with a volcanic temper. He dominates investigations, occasionally terrifies suspects' wives and fills the screen with his intensity. Fortunately, Idris Elba was on hand to play him, and this year picked a deserved Crime Writers' Association Dagger for his performance.

Extreme storytelling
He is almost consumed by his horror at the psychos and mad folk he confronts – and there are some pretty crazed baddies in the two series here. During the first series he is also in the torment of being separated from his wife, Zoe, who has moved onto someone less obsessive and grim in Mark North.

While the series cannot be faulted for its bold storytelling, it is not remotely believable, and as the DVD extra here, Luther – The World of a True Maverick, makes clear, it is not meant to be realistic. As Ruth Wilson says,  this is 'not realism. The characters are theatrical. It's very extreme.'

Alice the psycho ally
So Luther is a law breaker and near genius whose hunches are spot on and who thinks nothing of planting evidence to flush out an evil doer. His chief ally is eerie Alice the psychopath, and Ruth Wilson even wonders if her character is real, or part of Luther's imagination.

Neil Cross created a 'how-catch-'em' rather than a whodunit, and in Luther he wanted to fuse the eccentric brilliance of Sherlock Holmes with the 'moral danger' of Philip Marlowe. All of the characters operate in their own heightened world.

Killer in a punch mask
This boxset follows Luther's progression from his return from a breakdown and the separation with Zoe, through to her murder and into the second series, which veers into horror territory in episodes such as the series opener in which Luther hunts a crazed killer in a punch mask, which is full of creaking staircases, creaking doors and nasty murders.

Luther is a long way from Morse, and could never have the mainstream appeal of John Thaw's hero. He's unhinged, unbelievable, but – in Idris Elba's hands – Luther is an indelible presence.

•  The Luther boxset was supplied by BBCShop.com

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Without You starring Anna Friel PREVIEW

Anna Friel as Ellie, the widow turned sleuth. Pics: ITV
Rating ★★★★½

ITV1 from Thursday, 8 December, 9pm

Story: Ellie and her husband Greg are planning a romantic evening in when he returns from work in the evening. He later calls to say he is going to be late, but when the doorbell finally rings long after he said he would be home, it is two police officers on the doorstep, not Greg. They tell Ellie that Greg has been killed in a car crash. There was an unidentified woman in the car with him…

'Tis the season to be jolly and in the run up to Christmas TV bosses tend to save the new cop shows and thrillers for the harsh reality of January. But before we're inundated with Jim'll Fix It reboots and Downton Abbey specials, ITV1 has sneaked this fine psychological thriller into the schedule to keep us going.

Anna Friel plays Ellie Manning, who one horrendous evening is confronted by two WPCs at her door. They've come to tell her that Greg, the husband with whom she was playing to conceive a child, has been killed in a car crash. 

Happier times – Ellie and Greg
Her grief is heaped with shock and anger by the revelation that a woman was in the car wreck. She turns out to be glam blonde businesswoman Milena Livingstone.

Greg's mystery woman
Greg's colleagues at the accountancy firm where he works and his friends say they have no idea who she is. But the consensus is, well, you know what men are like, always thinking with their appendage, doesn't mean he didn't love her etc.

Was Ellie's love a sham? Was Greg, played by Marc Warren, cheating on her all along? Ellie is desperate to believe in her marriage and her husband, so she turns detective and tries to find out what Milena Livingstone was doing in Greg's car that night.

Having watched the first episode, I couldn't wait to see the rest. The danger with many thrillers is that they have a great hook, but then descend is convoluted stupid twists to keep viewers on the line.

Nicci Gerrard and Sean French
Without You, based on the Nicci French novel What to Do When Someone Dies, is way better than that, being solidly focused on well-imagined, believable characters.

Sean French, one half of the novel's writing team along with Nicci Gerrard, says of the story, 'What we wanted to do in this book was to write a thriller and a love story but also explore what it was like for a woman going through the process of grief with all its strange stages and feelings and try to weave these strands together… In a way Ellie learns more about her husband after he’s died than when he was there. So he’s both an absent character but a powerful presence.'

Ellie's digging takes her to Greg's workplace
The casting works a treat, with Anna Friel moving from vulnerable grief and anger to going slightly off the rails. Marc Warren, who we see flashbacks and Ellie's fantasy chats/arguments after his death, has just the right level of Jack the Lad about him to make us wonder whether he was cheating.

Beautifully told story
And the story, told in three episodes, is well-observed – from Ellie's insecure provoking of a row with Greg's mother at his funeral, to her dismally having to switch off the romantic dinner she was preparing on what turned out to be his last night alive, to her catching a cab in her nightie in the middle of the night to visit the car-crash scene.

When Ellie then defies everyone else's opinion and starts blundering about piecing together Greg's life and who Milena Livingstone was, a compelling story unfolds. As a portrayal of the stages of grief and a psychological journey, Without You is a beautifully told story.

Cast: Anna Friel Ellie Manning, Marc Warren Greg Manning, Barnaby Kay Joe Foreman, 
Olivia Poulet Gwen Abbot, Simon Trinder Fergus, Tim Woodward Hugo Livingstone, Heidi Monsen Milena Livingstone, Pippa Haywood Frances Shaw, Liam McMahon Johnny Lansdowne, Paul Ritter Inspector Ramsay,


Monday, 21 November 2011

Third degree: Simon Kernick

Pic: © Johnny Ring
CrimeTimePreview apprehended one of Britain's most exciting thriller writers to grill him about his viewing proclivities. He arrived on the crime scene with his acclaimed novel The Business of Dying, a terrific story about a corrupt cop who moonlights as a hitman. His authentic thrillers are based on research with members of Special Branch, the Anti-Terrorist Branch and the Organised Crime Agency. He has just finished writing his latest book, which will be called Siege.

Your favourite British crime series or thriller on TV?

Miss Marple.

Favourite US crime series or thriller on TV?

24, Damages, Harpers Island, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, The Shield.

Top TV cop?

I've always been a sucker for John Thaw as Morse.

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

The Matt Scudder series by Lawrence Block. Some of the best PI books around.

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

God knows. I always thought of Clive Owen as a good Dennis Milne, but unless they film it in the next few years, it's going to be too late, as Dennis was 37 in The Business of Dying.

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

Terra Nova, the new Steven Spielberg dinosaur series. I shouldn't do, but I love it.

Least favourite cop show/thriller?

There's more than one, but I'm not prepared to name any, just in case someone I know's contributing to them.

Do you prefer The Wire or The Sopranos?

I like them both, but if push came to shove, I'd go with The Sopranos. It's more flamboyant, and more outright entertainment.

Marple/Poirot or Sherlock Holmes?


Wallander – BBC or the Swedish version?

Sad to say, I haven't watched either of them.

US or British television crime dramas?

US, for the most part.

Your favourite crime/thriller writers?

There are a lot. In no particular order: Agatha Christie, Dennis Lehane, Lawrence Block, Robert Crais, Peter James, Harlan Coben, Lee Child.

Best new crime author to look out for?

Stuart Neville.

Favourite non-crime/thriller author?

JRR Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings is the only 1000 page book I've read three times!

Favourite crime movie or thriller?


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

It's going to have to be Poirot. He never lets the wool get pulled over his eyes, and he's faced some pretty hard cases.

• Simon's latest paperback is The Payback, the third of his Dennis Milne novels, about the maverick cop with murder on his CV. 

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Best Crime Dramas on British TV 2011

2011's TV crimespree blew away the previous year's good, but not overwhelming, caseload of crime dramas and thrillers. This selection is based on shows that had some heart and emotional depth, rather than the mainstream of whodunits and procedurals. But by all means, fire off your disagreements and preferences in the comments section at the end…
(Pics: BBC, ITV, C4, BSkyB, FX, 5USA)

Michael C Hall as Dexter
10 Dexter series 5 FX (UK)
This was probably Dexter's best outing since series one. It began with our serial killer protagonist in crisis, with his wife, Rita, murdered and his baby son discovered in a pool of her blood, which eerily echoed Dexter's own childhood trauma. The emotion-less Dexter is disconcerted, perhaps even moved a little, because by being with him, Rita – who thought she was 'getting a real human being' – has ended up butchered. The complications mounted for Dex, with his step-sister perplexed by his behaviour and his trying to deflect Lumen Pierce, whom he rescued from another serial killer, from seeking revenge. The conceit of novelist Jeff Lindsay's creation – serial killer as hero – should not work, but the black humour, the pathos, the character's deadpan voiceovers and Michael C Hall's performance makes this an unmissable and original series.
Highlight: Dexter giving Rita's family and kids the dreadful news that she's been murdered – but being so disengaged that he forgets to take off his Mickey Mouse ears while doing so.

Jamie Bamber as DS Devlin

9 Law & Order: UK series 4 and 5 ITV1
L&O: UK is now such a staple for ITV1 that we've had two series of it this year. The spin-off from the original US series earns its place here for its consistently good and tightly packed one-hour dramas, which frequently end on an ambivalent note. The stories also cover tough subjects, crimes by children, a gun rampage or killings by negligent doctors, for instance. The fifth season saw Dominic Rowan and Peter Davison joined the legal side of the cast, while the compelling tales continued without let-up. Bradley Walsh and Jamie Bamber have been excellent as the chalk-and-cheese detective sergeants, though sadly it looks as though that partnership has come to an end. Lead writer Emilia di Girolamo injected plenty of emotional impact into the last series, and finished it with a stunning cliffhanger…
Highlight: has to be the finale of series five, when DS Matt Devlin was shot outside court.

Jason Isaacs as Jackson Brodie
8 Case Histories BBC1
Novelist Kate Atkinson is not solidly in the crime genre camp, and this hugely enjoyable series caught the narrative quirks, mystery and humour of her writing brilliantly. Jason Isaacs, in a sharp contrast to his American persona in the gangster series Brotherhood, was the engaging and vulnerable tough guy Jackson Brodie, who gets dragged into the world of the Land sisters by Sylvia Syms's missing moggy. The sisters want Jackson to look into the fate of their missing sister, who vanished 30 years before. Edinburgh is the beautifully shot backdrop, and the cast, including Amanda Abbington as the tough cop with a soft spot for the wayward Jackson, was wonderful.
Highlight: any of Jackson's scenes with his young daughter, Marlee (Millie Innes).

Janet Leach (Emily Watson) accompanies Fred West (Dominic West) to a murder site
7 Appropriate Adult ITV1
Dominic West showed what an accomplished star he is with this unexpected performance as the one-man horrorshow that was real-life serial killer Fred West. It was controversial, but still a haunting and unforgettable dramatisation from the award-winning team that revisited the Yorkshire Ripper and the Moors murders on the small screen. Confronting such revolting crimes in a drama is a way of attempting to gain modest perspective on them, but Appropriate Adult ultimately reinforced the feeling that such killers are beyond our understanding. Written by Neil McKay, the drama cleverly approached the horrendous story from an oblique angle, that of housewife Janet Leach, who was the required Appropriate Adult brought in to chaperone the apparently below-averagely intelligent West – a powerful performance by Emily Watson.
Unforgettable moment: Janet Leach's uncomprehending expression as West tells detectives about his crimes.

Will Sully be a Top Boy?
6 Top Boy Channel 4
Channel 4 is not a top producer of crime dramas, but if it only makes one a year that is as potent as Top Boy then it will be worth waiting for. A four-parter that took a hard look at inner-city drug and gang culture, our escort into this world was 13-year-old Ra'Nell (Malcolm Kamulete), whose mother is hospitalised after a breakdown. The programme caught the pressure on young men such as Ra'Nell to ally themselves with gangs for status, but the price exacted by the likes of Dushane (Ashley Walters) and Sully (Kano) – both also desperate to be top boys, despite the huge risks – was unflinchingly shown.
Highlight: Raikes telling Dushane he has to give up Sully to the Feds. Reality bites…

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The Killing series 2 with Sofie Gråbøl PREVIEW

Recalled – Sarah Lund (Sofie Gråbøl). Pics: BBC

Rating ★★★★½

BBC4 from Saturday 19 November, 9pm

Story: A female lawyer is murdered in macabre and puzzling circumstances. At Copenhagen police headquarters, Lennart Brix decides to ask disgraced former detective Sarah Lund if she would take a look at the case. At first, she says no…

Obsessively breaking the messy Nanna Birk Larsen case in series one has taken a grim toll on enigmatic detective Sarah Lund.

For a start, she's no longer an investigator, having been shifted to some kind of traffic/border duties in the countryside. She also seems to be alienated and alone, adrift from her son and mother.

However, when her former boss, old stone-face Lennart Brix, is confronted with the disturbing murder of a female lawyer, he tells detective Ulrik Strange to approach Lund for assistance on the case.

Sarah Lund – telling her boss what he doesn't want to hear
We see her in her dismal flat, frying eggs for breakfast. She is reluctant at first to look at the case. The lawyer was found tied up in her garden, stabbed 21 times. Her husband was having an affair with his secretary and is the main suspect, though he has an alibi.

Already making waves – Lund with Brix (left) and Strange
Lund eventually visits the crime scene. It's not long before she's telling Brix what he doesn't want to hear – she doesn't think the husband did it. Then she drops her bombshell – it was not a crime of passion…

One of the most glorious sights on television earlier this year was Sofie Gråbøl as the infuriatingly single-minded Sarah butting heads with the authorities and her colleagues. When series one went out at the start of 2011 on BBC4 it became a word-of-mouth sensation despite having zero promotion, being subtitled and coming from unfashionable Denmark.

The Killing – how does series two compare?
But hundreds of thousands of viewers, clearly jaded by the formulaic 'hits' they're used to, such as Midsomer Murders, became engrossed by it. The Killing attracted more viewers to BBC4 than Mad Men, it won a Bafta and last month picked up three Crime Writers' Association Daggers, including awards for Sofie Gråbøl and best international drama. And then there was the US spin-off, which was also pretty decent.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Garrow's Law series 3 with Andrew Buchan PREVIEW

Andrew Buchan as William Garrow. Pics: BBC
Rating ★★★★

BBC1 from Sunday, 13 November, 9pm 

Story: Garrow returns to the Bailey to risk his already tarnished reputation to defend James Hadfield, on trial for High Treason for attempting to assassinate King George III at the Drury Lane theatre.

The 18th-century courtroom maverick William Garrow returns to flip the wigs of the establishment with more legal derring-do in this third series based on true events from the Old Bailey archives.

Writer and co-creator Tony Marchant revisits a momentous legal battle for Garrow revolving around the attempted murder of the King one night at the theatre. James Hadfield, a former soldier, fires at the monarch in his box and is overpowered by the audience.

Garrow and Lady Sarah
Lord Melville makes it clear that the trial will be political. After some soul searching, Garrow agrees to fight an unpopular case for Hadfield but is puzzled by how to defend him. Convinced that Hadfield is insane – god has told him to sacrifice himself or everything will perish – Garrow is stuck with a law that considers him sane because he is not a permanently raving beast.

Criminal conversation – or sex with another man's wife
It's a juicy opener to the series, a past winner of a Royal Television Society award and again a drama that stirs our fascination and horror at the brutality and legal crudeness of merry old England.

At the end of the last series, our barrister hero was (wrongly) convicted of 'criminal conversation' – or having sex with another man's wife. He is now in an 'irregular' relationship with Lady Sarah Hill, who is almost as deranged as Hadfield in this episode, so distressed is she at her separation from her child by evil, bitter, nasty husband Sir Arthur.

Following the scandal, Garrow and Lady Sarah are about as popular around town as George Papandreou at a Euro knees-up with Angela and Nicolas, and are struggling financially.

Madness of King George
The cast – led by Andrew Buchan as Garrow, Lyndsey Marshal as Lady Sarah and the spluttering Alun Armstrong as Garrow's mentor Southouse – once again carry off the wigs and corsets with aplomb, skilfully transporting the viewer back to Newgate Prison, Bedlam and the Old Bailey.

Southouse, Lady Sarah and Garrow
It is in the notorious mental hospital of Bedlam, where people in the 18th century paid a penny to gawp at the mentally ill, that Garrow begins to form his defence. Here he learns that it is possible to be lucid most of the time, but still have a shaky grasp on reality. As usual, it is the law that is an ass.

This is a very delicate point for the barrister to get across, as the King himself is known to have a 'mind that comes and goes'.

Garrow – fact and fiction
Garrow's Law has shone a light on an unsung hero of history, and anyone interested in digging further into the facts of his life can start by checking out the Garrow Society website.

Otherwise, just sit back with a glass of port and goggle at the chilling spectacle of ye olde English law in action.

Cast: Andrew Buchan William Garrow, Alun Armstrong John Southouse, Lyndsey Marshal Lady Sarah Hill, Rupert Graves Sir Arthur Hill, Mark Letheren James Hadfield. Guest stars: Olivia Grant as Lady Henrietta, Sir Arthur's mistress, Derek Riddell silk maker Matthew Bambridge, Patrick Baladi General picton, Cal Macaninch constable Lucas

Friday, 4 November 2011

The Jury with Julie Walters PREVIEW

Julie Walters as barrister Emma Watts. Pics: ITV
Rating ★★★★

ITV1, weeknights, from Monday 7 November to Friday 11 November, 9pm

Guilty or not guilty – Alan Lane?
Story: Alan Lane's conviction for the violent murder of three women has been found to be unsafe after he's spent five years in prison. He is sent for a re-trial, and a varied group of people are summoned to do jury service.

Viewers with long memories will recall the first series of The Jury, back in 2002, starring a pretty decent cast of Gerard Butler, Mark Strong, Derek Jacobi and Antony Sher. Since then writer Peter Morgan has gone off and written First/Nixon, The Deal and been Oscar-nominated for The Queen.

Now he's back with another instalment of jury service and criminal trial, again with a cast that's not too shabby. Julie Walters plays defence barrister Emma Watts, up against prosecutor John Mallory, played by Roger Allam. Jodhi May, Anne Reid, Steven Mackintosh and Ronald Pickup also feature.

The jury looks a pretty dodgy bunch
The latter all play a mixed bunch of jurors, who are brought together, some very reluctantly, to hear a controversial re-trial of a notorious serial killer, Alan Lane. It's basically 12 Angry Men with knobs on, telling the story of an emotional murder trial alongside the tangled lives of a suspiciously diverse and at times fishy bunch of jurors.

The jury members have a few issues…
Among them are Paul, who cares for his mum; Katherine, a teacher who's fallen in love with a 17-year-old pupil; 18-year-old Rashid, who has some kind of medical condition; Lucy, who is tricked by her bitch of a boss, Theresa, to impersonate her on the jury; Krystina, a lonely housewife; and senior citizen Jeffery, who befriends Sudanese refugee Tahir.

The first episode of this five-parter expertly draws you in, the jurors having more dodgy backstory than the cast of EastEnders, and this is without the question of whether Alan Lane done it or not.

Fag-puffing QC
Julie Walters escapes from her real-character roles of Mary Whitehouse and Mo Mowlam, and the fun of Molly Weasley, to breathe a glint of spirit into fag-puffing QC Emma. We first see her bollocking a taxi driver before jousting verbally with her legal opponent on the pavement outside the Old Bailey. Very convincing she is, too.

Why is Tasha shadowing her fellow jurors?
The opener finishes with a delicious twist about a juror who has been following her fellow jurors during adjournments.

The Jury kicks off with more intrigue swirling about than the current Greek parliament. It's pacy and leaves you wanting to know what's coming next.

But the danger is that it becomes one of dramas that's still piling on the twists and pregnant plotlines at 9.50pm next Friday, and finally collapses into a huge letdown.

However, Peter Morgan's rap sheet suggests The Jury may just avoid that verdict.

Cast: Julie Walters Emma Watts, Roger Allam John Mallory, Alan Lane John Lynch, Steven Mackintosh Paul Brierley, Anne Reid Paul's mother, Jodhi May Katherine Bulmore, Aqib Khan Rashid Jarwar, Natalie Press Lucy Cartwright, Sarah Alexander Theresa, Branka Katic Krystina Bamford, Ronald Pickup Jeffery Livingstone, Ivanno Jeremiah Tahir Takana, Lisa Dillon Tasha Williams, Rory McCann Derek Hatch

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Sherlock, Luther and Top Boy

• American readers of this site may be cheered by the news that Luther series 2 has just been released on DVD in the US. It's already out in the UK, but here's a gratuitous reminder of the rather chilling series, for which Idris Elba was nominated for an Emmy and Golden Globe, but did win the CWA Crime Thriller TV Dagger in October.

• I have to admit my prejudice got the better of me. These days a new cracking drama on C4 is about as likely as George Papandreou being on Nicolas Sarkozy's Christmas card list. So the channel's Top Boy four-parter completely slipped by me. That'll teach me to assume C4 was all documentaries with titles such as My Daughter's Got an Anus on Her Head. It concludes tomorrow (Thursday) at 10pm, but if you've missed the first three you can catch them online on 4 on demand. Top Boy is a gem of a drama, delving into the gang culture on an East London estate. Thirteen-year-old Ra'Nell is plunged into the adult world, particularly that of the gangs, when his mother has a breakdown and is hospitalised. Heather, his mother's friend, then involves him in her plan to give her unborn baby the chances she missed, which, needless to say, is a bit on the risky side. At times tender, at other times brutal, Top Boy is written by Ronan Bennet, whose Hidden concluded so disappointingly on BBC1 last week after a promising build-up. Here's hoping that Top Boy follows through on the huge promise of its opening episodes. C4 have even put together an interesting website for the drama.

• The BFI has a fantastic treat next month – previews, with the casts, of the Beeb's new series of Sherlock and The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Sherlock – A Scandal in Belgravia with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman is on Tuesday 6th, 6.15pm, and Drood, with Matthew Rhys, is on Wednesday 7th at 6.20pm.