I make no bones about it – this is always one of my favourite posts of the year. I’ve been lucky enough to have attended some really great crime fiction events this year and, along the way, I’ve met some lovely people and great writers. It’s always interesting to hear what they think about crime drama – some because they have their books optioned, but mostly because they also love good crime stories in whatever medium. So once again I’ve tapped up a few of the writers I admire and whose work I like to share with us their favourite crime dramas of the year. ‘Tis the season, after all.
Rillington Place, BBC1
I have a confession to make. It’s a serious one so brace yourselves: I don’t watch much TV. There, I’ve said it. I haven’t seen The Missing or The Fall or Broadchurch. I’ve watched a few episodes of True Detective here and there, and I did love Netflix’s stupendously successful Making A Murderer, but the truth is, I’m much more of a reading-a-book kinda gal. But every now and then, a TV show catches my eye and piques my interest, and I’ll drop everything to watch it. This year’s is Rillington Place. Based on the true story of serial killer John Christie (an innocent man, Timothy Evans, was wrongly hanged for two of his murders), this chilling BBC drama appeals to the journalist in me. Samantha Morton gives a nuanced performance, and is almost unrecognisable as his downtrodden wife Ethel. Tim Roth is creepy, creepy, creepy with his facsimile of the real Christie’s whispered voice, the legacy of a mustard gas attack. Some of the scenes are like paintings, the washed-out colours lending a cinematic feel and capturing the tone of the period, the pervading darkness a metaphor for the shadows that linger in his Notting Hill flat. The pared-down script means a feeling is expressed in a word or look. And even I can manage to watch three parts. I haven’t seen Richard Fleischer’s 1971 film 10 Rillington Place, which I understand is a tour de force, but the BBC’s version is so perfectly pitched I’m not sure I need to.
Fiona Cummins is an award-winning journalist, and her debut novel, Rattle, is released by Pan McMillan on 26th January 2017. Val McDermid says of it: “It’s a rare debut that has this much polish. Harrowing and horrifying, head and shoulders above most of the competition.” Sarah Hilary said: “A creepy crime debut with shades of Babadook about it … I think it will be huge.” You can pre-order it here.
Just as publishers are always looking for the next best thing, I am too when it comes to film and TV. There is nothing quite like curling up on the sofa and binge-watching a programme you’ve been saving up for a rainy day. For me this 10-part Icelandic crime drama was the standout series of the genre in 2016. A great cast of characters, an island setting, a storm battering the inhabitants of this frozen landscape kept me and the nation gripped. The main characters, police chief Andri Olafsson (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) and loyal colleague Hinrika (Ilmur Kristjánsdóttir) were a superb pairing. Trapped was a slow-burning, well-crafted narrative of love, loss and loyalty; my three favourite ingredients. This was Nordic Noir at its best, gripping TV right from the opening scene, a class production by RVK Studios. I didn’t want it to end and I’m delighted that a second series has already been commissioned.
Mari Hannah is the award-winning writer of the DCI Kate Daniels series. Jake Kerridge, in the latest issue of Crime Scene magazine, said: “DCI Kate Daniels really is an outstanding contemporary crime fiction character.” The Kate Daniels series is in development with Stephen Fry’s production company, Sprout Pictures. A tiny quote from Stephen: “They’re just great reads.” The latest Kate Daniels story, Gallows Drop, is out now. Click here for Mari’s website, or go here to buy it.
Horace And Pete (louisck.net)
Rectify is the best American crime drama of the decade. It’s one of the truest shows – and, frankly, one of the greatest pieces of art – ever made about the American South. Ray McKinnon is a genius. The show’s mission is to unravel the damage humans do to each other. Aden Young as Daniel Holden gives the most haunting and penetrating television performance this side of McKinnon’s own Reverend Smith in Deadwood. Abigail Spencer’s Amantha Holden is real and sad and perfect. And the show’s biggest surprise is Adelaide Clemens as the shattered and shattering Tawney Talbot. But the acting is just a part of what makes Rectify so quietly revelatory. The writing (many episodes are written by McKinnon himself) is killer. These are the kinds of characters I want to write, the kind that can reveal the full spectrum of their complexity over the course of a single line—you feel sympathy for them, regret, anger, sadness, love, almost all at once. The narrative is rich and layered, with a main mystery rooted in corrupt American systems of power and class that is juxtaposed against nuanced scenes where the Holdens and Talbots seek to make sense of the cards they’ve been dealt. There are also shots that echo William Eggleston in their desolate beauty. This fourth and final season (there are two episodes remaining as I write this) has gutted me. Rectify is a great Southern poem about despair and doubt and damage and depravity and, ultimately, healing. Elsewhere, I don’t think I’m stretching it to call Louis C.K.’s masterful web series, Horace and Pete, a crime drama (though I might be giving something away). It is, in fact, my favourite kind of crime drama: one where despair and longing give way to sudden and unexpected violence, where the crimes of the past catch up with characters in the present, where those characters are shaped by the sins of their fathers. Some of this might not be apparent after one viewing of the show. A second viewing shows us just how commanding C.K.’s vision is: there’s so much crime and violence here all along, both emotional and physical, and every character is doomed by it. The show feels, on some level, like Eugene O’Neill’s twisted version of Cheers, but it’s even more than that: a show about complicity and consequences, about the nature of evil, about the ways we fool ourselves into believing that we are normal, that we are fine, that we will survive.
William Boyle’s debut, Gravesend, has won widespread critical acclaim and award nominations, including the prestigious Prix Solar SNCF in France. Megan Abbott said: “William Boyle’s Gravesend is a bruiser and a heartbreaker of a debut. With echoes of Lehane and Pelecanos but with a rhythm and poignancy all its own, it’s a gripping tale of family, revenge, the strains of the past and the losses that never leave us.” Visit William’s website here.
Catherine Ryan Howard
The Night Of, Sky Atlantic
For me the most outstanding crime drama of a year was HBO/Sky Atlantic’s The Night Of, an eight-part miniseries based on the BBC’s Criminal Justice. It stars Riz Ahmed as Nasir, a young Pakistani-American who wakes up to discover the girl he’s met earlier in the evening has been brutally murdered in her bed – and he has no recollection of what’s happened. The series follows everyone involved through what happens next: Nasir awaits his trial in prison, a detective investigates, lawyers get ready to prosecute and defend and his family struggle to deal with their lives being turned upside down. If it sounds like more of the same, rest assured it’s not. Take for instance the show’s casting. Not only do you have an incredible ensemble of acting talent, but the cast looks like real life. It’s diverse, and when did you last see a female actor like Jeannie Berlin (Helen Weiss, the DA trying Nasir’s case) playing a role that wasn’t someone’s ageing aunt or grandmother? The last 15, 20 minutes of the opening episode was a masterclass in building tension – probably the best 20 minutes of TV all year. I’m not sure every subsequent episode managed to live up to it, but for me it’s still the best crime drama of 2016.
Catherine’s debut novel, Distress Signals, is one of Amazon’s Rising Star debuts of the year and has been nominated for the Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards Crime Novel Of The Year. Liz Nugent said of Distress Signals: “Pacey, suspenseful and intriguing … [A] top class, page-turning read. Catherine Ryan Howard is an astonishing new voice in thriller writing.” You can buy it here, while Catherine’s website is here.
Fargo, Channel 4
I like my comedy-crime dark and creepy, so it was great to catch up with the second series of Fargo this year. The show’s creator Noah Hawley builds brilliantly on the off-kilter goldfish bowl noir of season one. It’s an anthology show, so each season features a different story within the same general setting, a format that makes it possible to enjoy Hawley’s realist-meets-madcap, lightly surreal tone without tiring of the characters or the narrative, and two compelling female characters (ambitious, secretly steely, small town gal Peggy Blumquist and terrifying yet oddly sympathetic crime family matriarch Floyd Gerhardt, wonderfully realised, respectively, by Kirsten Dunst and Jean Smart). Good and evil is too schematic here. The great battle is between the more subtle and interesting forces of decency and depravity. Our two good men are State Trooper Lou Solverson and his father-in-law Sheriff Hank Larsson, played with tremendous confidence and charm by Patrick Wilson and Ted Danson. Add in Peggy’s decent but hapless husband, Ed – which was another terrific performance, this time by Jessie Plemons, who’s been great in everything I’ve seen him in since in the glorious Friday Night Lights – and a spiralling plot, and it all results in a darkly affectionate portrait of small-town life, vivid characters trapped in an assortment of beautifully realised, dysfunctional (and functional) relationships, along with some of the finest storytelling in crime drama. With its Technicolor tones and giant snowy vistas, Fargo was gorgeous to look at, too. I’m looking forward to seeing what Noah Hawley’s going to cook up for season three in 2017 with Carrie Coon playing Gloria Burgle, Chief of the Eden Valley Police and Ewan McGregor doubling up as Emmit Stussy, Parking Lot King of Minnesota, and his non-twin brother, Ray.
Melanie McGrath is the author of the Edie Kiglatuk series – White Heat, The Boy In The Snow and The Bone Seeker. The Daily Telegraph said of White Heat: “This is a novel in which the cold seems to leak from the page, leaving you chilled, both by its suspenseful plot and by the epic descriptions of this vast white landscape. For those seeking a palate cleanser after the sensationalist high-violence of Stieg Larsson, this quietly compelling tale of ice and intrigue should be high on their list.” Melanie is also a founding member of the Killer Women collective. You can buy the series here.
Better Call Saul, Netflix
In a year when we’ve never needed stories more, I watched a few things on terrestrial – blue-chip dramas like Happy Valley, The Missing and Rillington Place were worth watching – but all the crime dramas the Hill household enjoyed were streamed or debuted on satellite. One show I loved – and it wasn’t strictly a crime drama, soz – was The Leftovers: a powerful and mystical drama about guilt and inexplicable loss. It returns for a final series in 2017 – and I’m heartbroken about it. Elsewhere, I thought The Night Of was great, featuring as it did a sly and affecting script by Richard Price and was worthy of its considerable water cooler plaudits. Goliath was an entertaining new drama about a busted little guy taking on a corporate law firm, and Animal Kingdom, about a family of west coast thieves, was a high-octane reinvention of David Michod’s brilliant movie. But my favourite was the second season of the funny and poignant Better Call Saul, which continued to knock it out of the park. The writing of this show is to die for – every scene made my heart ache.
Mark’s debut – The Two O’Clock Boy – is out on ebook now and is released in paperback in April 2017. The Crimetime website said the novel, “takes the clichés of the modern police procedural and forges something new and impressive from them.” Robert Bryndza sais: “A fantastic debut: dark, addictive and original. I couldn’t put it down” To purchase the ebook, go here.
The Disappearance, BBC4
The Night Of, Sky Atlantic
There were two standout crime dramas for me in 2016 and I can’t choose between them. The first was French drama The Disappearance, about a teenage girl who goes missing after attending a festival. Tightly plotted and brilliantly acted, it gave those Scandi dramas a serious run for their money. In joint first place is The Night Of, starring Golden Globes nominees Riz Ahmed and John Turturro. I pity the judges who have to pick between them in the Best Actor category, because both gave performances that, while very different, were equally blistering.
Michelle Davies’ debut novel Gone Astray has won widespread acclaim. Stylist magazine said: “A full-bodied police procedural thriller from start to finish – with a whirlwind plot and sensational sub-stories, it’s a real binge-read kind of book.” Fabulous magazine said: “A clever but all too believable crime thriller that’s right on the money when it comes to creepy, twisted plots.” You can buy it here.
The Night Manager, BBC1
Adapted from the John le Carre novel, this six-part series tells the tale of former British soldier, Jonathan Pine, who is recruited by an intelligence operative to infiltrate the inner circle of notorious international arms dealer, Richard Roper, with the objective of destroying him. Hugh Laurie was masterful as Roper and clearly had a blast playing this morally-bankrupt, acerbic, glamorous, game-playing villain who oozed an evil charm. Tom Hiddleston gave a superb audition to be the next 007 with his addictive smile and suave cool. The series dripped with danger, sex, and sumptuous locations. Glossy, high-budget and unashamedly entertaining – and with delicious supporting performances from Tom Hollander and Olivia Colman – The Night Manager ensured Sunday evenings were a total TV pleasure.
Amanda’s third novel, In Her Wake, has prompted WH Smith to select her as part of its Fresh Talent initiative. Clare Mackintosh calls In Her Wake, “Hauntingly beautiful.” Sarah Hilary says of the novel: “Thoughtful, atmospheric and deeply immersive, it wields an almost mesmeric power over the reader from the first page to the last. Amanda’s website is here, and you can buy In Her Wake here.
The Night Of, Sky Atlantic
This year has been awash with fantastic TV, from Stranger Things all the way to Westworld but one of my standouts of 2016 was The Night Of. A gritty and heart-wrenching portrayal of a man falsely accused of a girl’s brutal murder, it follows his foolish mistakes on ‘the night of’ that together built an overwhelming case against him. But worse is his decline into criminality from trying to survive in prison while the media (he’s a Muslim) and the DA try to skewer him from all angles. It’s a slow-burning but edge-of-your-seat watch, beautifully written and shot, with a stand-out performance from John Turturro.
Beth’s debut novel, The Wolf Road, was universally acclaimed. Antonia Hodgson said: “The Wolf Road is an extraordinary novel – dark and funny and full of wild energy. Elka is a brilliant creation – fierce and vulnerable at the same time. Her story and her voice pull you in from the first page and never let you go. Gripping and unforgettable.” To buy it go here, and to visit Beth’s website go here.