Crime is one of my favourite genres and I tend to like series, both on the screen and in books, because they give me a chance to get to know the detectives and their world.
I’m always impressed by good world building that takes me to the place where the story happens and lets me see, hear, smell and almost touch the surroundings. Some crime writers manage that with flair. Others fail.
I enjoy getting to know characters who develop over the course of a series, giving the reader or viewer fascinating glimpses into their personality and their private life.
I’m also interested in justice – how it’s achieved, whether it’s achieved, etc.
I like mysteries approached in the order in which they are tackled by the detectives, with as few flashbacks as possible, and preferably nothing told from the criminal’s point of view.
I think the very best series, for me, are those in which the main character is perfectly suited to their location and while both develop slowly, each episode or book can focus on an appropriate plot. So: an overarching story of the investigators, and each crime with a beginning, middle and end. I want some depth to the characters, and am not fond of ‘cosy mysteries’ in which crimes fall into the laps of amateur sleuths who have no personality to speak of.
I want to say more, in this post, about some of the series and books I mentioned briefly in my January reviews. There will be spoilers here so if you’re intending to watch or read a series later, skim over the relevant paragraphs!
I watched Bancroft, and wished I hadn’t. On the surface, this was a police procedural but once it was clear that the main character was in fact a villain I lost interest. The story line took on a dull predictability and I didn’t much care what happened to the protagonist provided they were apprehended. I don’t like crime stories told from the point of view of the criminal and this series, with its focus on a rogue cop, was not to my taste. There was some good acting and direction but I didn’t enjoy the series. I rated it as three star and watchable but would not personally recommend it.
I also watched Wisting. I tend to make at least a start on any Scandinavian crime drama. I’m not sure why they are so appealing – or even whether they are. Maybe I was just so impressed by The Bridge that I keep hoping for more. Wisting is set in Norway and aspects of Norwegian life were interesting but the entire story line took place in winter and I came to the conclusion that Norway in winter was not a place that appealed to me. Given that I am told summer is full of biting insects, I have now crossed Norway off my list of places to visit – ever. Wisting is a cop and very good at his job. He is both helped and hindered by his journalist daughter. The crimes were those of a serial killer and the mix of police procedural and journalistic focus on headlines made for an interesting approach. However, I got annoyed with Wisting and daughter for their personal interactions and that, plus the instant dislike of the location lost a star for the series.
I fell in love with Happy Valley and hope season three will not be too long in making an appearance. Catherine is an excellent policewoman with personal flaws and an interesting family. The crimes she investigates centre round the drug trade in West Yorkshire, in an area I know quite well. I was, of course, fascinated to spot places I knew. The entire community came alive and I would almost expect to see some of the characters in those small towns if I visited. The entire thing seemed very real and yet at the same time satisfyingly full of stories with beginnings, middles and ends. For me, this was perfect television crime.
Deadwater Fell was a disappointment. David Tennant is an excellent actor, as is Cush Jumbo and the supporting cast did a valiant job. However, the story unfolded so slowly, with such predictability, and with no excitements after the first episode, that I was, frankly, bored. I think more could have been made of the Scottish location; this could have been anytown, anywhere. So much of the story was told in flashbacks that I got irritated. I dislike flashbacks as a story device unless they are absolutely essential. Perhaps this story could have been told in a different way, raising our hopes and fears. As it stood, it did neither.
I read The Picture on the Fridge by Ian W Sainsbury and was annoyed by the opening, which I felt was unnecessary. It foreshadowed an exciting bit of the story, and as such could have been left to its proper place. I think any sense of ‘thrill’ would have been built better for me if the threat had emerged gradually. The plot centres on the idea of mental communication between twins or people who share DNA and as such is interesting but not entirely believable. I certainly wouldn’t re-read it now that I know not only what happened but why. However, the writing was good, and I think a lot of people would find it really enjoyable.
In The Dark by Loreth Anne White was initially startling because I realised it was a kind of homage to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None but set in present day Canada. However, the characters within the story acknowledged the inspiration, and the work of uncovering the person pulling the strings was clever and at times very gripping. The book alternated between the victims trapped in a remote lodge and their would-be rescuers, a detective and a woman who led a search and rescue team. Both characters were well drawn and interesting and in fact I would like to read more about them, but the structure of the book meant that some of the claustrophobia and tension of the Christie novel were lost. Recommended.
Their Missing Daughters by Joy Ellis is set in Lincolnshire with very competent (but not very interesting) police detectives trying to find currently missing girls and at the same time investigate cold cases that might be linked. The fens are brought to life and the story is interesting so I enjoyed the book but would not feel inspired to go out looking for anything else featuring Jackman and Marie because I only cared about the case and not about them.
He Is Watching You by Charlie Gallagher suffers in much the same way. Maddie Ives goes to work in a fictional southern county where she teams up with DI Blaker. This is another story where missing women are at the heart of the mystery. The case was gripping, but the detectives were basically boring, and the fact that the county doesn’t exist (though Canterbury does…) was an irritation. I couldn’t think why the author was unwilling to name a real county in England.
Untouchable by Sibel Hodge was both exciting and interesting. The basic plot was built around a fictionalised version of Operation Midland, assuming, for the sake of story, that the fabrications of Carl Beech or rather, the accusations of the story’s characters, were true. In the same month, I watched Exposed: The Church’s Darkest Secret which explored cover-ups of abuse at the highest levels so the novel resonated with my viewing. However, I found a lot to criticise in the writing or rather, the research. The author had a limited grasp of the work of a coroner, the rules pertaining to church funerals, and the way caller ID works. I also felt annoyed by the constant switch to flashbacks which admittedly gave the accusations strength but made the novel’s structure clumsy, and detracted from the thrill of the ‘chase’. We know, now, that there was a great deal of abuse of children in the period covered by the story, and that there were both cover-ups and poor policing decisions. The timeliness of the story added an extra star despite the flaws.
I also wanted to mention The truth dressed up (in lies) by nagi_schwarz which can be found on AO3. This is SGA fanfic but it’s an AU where all the cast of SGA are placed in an earth based detective setting with no sci-fi elements at all. It’s an interesting way to write a completely new story about well known characters. Their ‘voices’ and basic characteristics must be maintained while the author does a great deal of world building to make us believe that Elizabeth Weir is running a police precinct rather than a space colony.
The Wisting books are better than the TV adaptation, though the pace is slow and you still get a lot of interaction between Wisting and his rather irritating daughter. I like the Norwegian setting though, especially as it’s not Oslo for the most part. We visited Bergen a few years ago and loved it, though Norway is eye-wateringly expensive.
She was extremely irritating! I can imagine loving Bergen and I had always thought a holiday in Norway would be good, but between arctic conditions all winter and a short summer full of midges I don’t think it’s on my bucket list! I can also imagine that the books are better than the TV adaptation, but having watched the TV series I’m not anxious to read the books, especially after looking at the length of my tbr list!!