This is a welcome return to creator–writer Chris Lang’s sensitive crime drama, which provides a vacation from inferior boot-in-the-door-type cop procedurals. Never sacrificing characterisation to shock tactics, the first series set the bar so high that we shiver in anticipation of the goodies to come over the next five weeks.
Two men on a dredging crew on a rather picturesque stretch of the River Lea in North London (presumably as part of the post-Olympics gentrification of the area) make the gruesome discovery of a decomposed body in a sealed suitcase.
Someone obviously went to a lot of trouble to seal it because the body is fairly well preserved in the fatty goo of saponification – possibly having been in the water since 1994 when the river was last dredged. Still, DCI Cassie Stuart (Nicola Walker) and DI Sunny Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar) have succeeded with a lot less than a human-sized bar of soap to go on.
Luckily, the watch on the body is an upmarket model, which although not posh enough to bear a serial number, could be traceable through watch-menders. The only other clue is the remains of a just-about-trackable pager. Nathan (Bobby Lockwood), an old friend of Cassie’s son who works in a phone store helps Cassie’s forensics team to decipher it. Young Nathan obviously likes all things retro – he’s wearing a TWA sweatshirt, a US airline that went bust in 2001.
As in the first series we meet four seemingly disparate people in different areas of the country – all pillars of their communities – who may be linked to the victim.
Popular Oxford-based DI Tessa Nixon (Lorraine Ashbourne, who does world-weary better than most) has told her boss of her intention to shortly retire from the force after putting in 25 years’ service. But whether she’ll be able to walk off into her sunset years with her supportive partner Paul (Douglas Hodge) is debatable because of her needy grown-up son Jason (Will Brown), who comes over as being possibly on the autism spectrum; he can’t keep a girlfriend and lives in digs, seemingly alienating those around him.
We meet Colin Osborne in court representing reformed drug-dealer Jordan, having presumably helped him turn his life around. Now, in Colin’s case let’s hope the casting director hasn’t been lazy because this Brighton-based, bleeding-heart barrister is rather counterintuitively played by TV’s go-to bad guy Mark Bonnar. Colin, with husband Simon (Charlie Condou, Coronation Street), is finalising the adoption of a little girl. Not a uniformly popular move, even in the gay capital of the UK, it appears, because a customer seeing the happy new family in a supermarket offers some homophobic abuse.
Outside, Colin keys the man’s car, watched from across the car park by a baseball-hatted pursuer with a more serious agenda than opposing gay adoption. You can tell he has evil intent, as the panels on his car are different colours. He confronts Colin after he drops off his daughter at school and identifies himself as Tyler – the partner of a drug-addicted single mother whose case Colin is handling. Tyler (Josef Altin) wants to interfere in the custody case of his child and blackmails Colin, who obviously isn’t short of a bob or two. If he’ll get him access to the kid, he won’t spill on Colin’s criminal damage.
In the affluent cathedral town of Salisbury, secondary teacher Sara Mahmoud (Badria Timimi) and wannabe superhead is facing not only the stress of teaching teens about Macbeth and women and murder (nature or nurture?) – but also trying for a job to turn round an Ofsted-panned failing school. After cocking up the interview, she runs back to way-lay the panel in a corridor to give an Oscar-worthy display of her passion and commitment. What’s the betting she’s offered the post just before she gets embroiled in a murder inquiry?
The most pathetic of these runners and riders is downtrodden nurse Marion Kelsey (Rosie Cavaliero), who works with chronically ill children, and whose snotty rich sister Elise (Holly Aird) constantly makes her feel second-best while fighting for supremacy in their mother’s affections. Kelsey is also never off-duty – even trying to allay the fears of insolent teenage non-Hodgkins patient Zoe from home.
Back on the beat, Sunny’s trawl round watch-repairers pays off – the owner was 39-year-old David Walker – missing since 1990 – and ex-husband to Tessa Nixon.
The tactful ’tecs have found their first suspect.
‘Sixty-three per cent of all murder victims have been killed by their partners –you’ll be thinking that, won’t you? I would be,’ DI Nixon tells our sympathetic duo. And so it begins, says Cassie.
Cassie’s live-in widowed dad (played by Peter Egan) looks like he’s been burning the candle at both ends going out speed-dating – but isn’t getting on too well; as he says, downcast: ‘They’re all little old ladies.’
‘Yes, and you’re a little old man,’ she reminds him.
This series – and the first, for that matter – is steeped in the pervasive loneliness of our age – an accelerating process in an era of social media.
Cassie is not keen on the idea of online dating despite encouragement from Sunny; she’s put off by the idea of precipitate intimacy and doesn’t want to be seen in her bra and knickers by the third date – Sunny concedes this point.
As with the first series the cast is superb and may yet hold a few surprises (Emma Cunniffe plays Janet at the adoption agency so her role promises to be far more than a cameo). It is also good to see Wendy Craig, playing Kelsey’s mum Joy, looking chipper at 82.
Director Andy Wilson chooses lush scenery of the Cotswolds and nice aerial shots of Salisbury to convey that, yes, again most of our suspects are decent middle-class, solid professionals with nice partners and families and fairly settled lives. But that doesn’t detract from the drama.
If they were drug dealers on a sink estate how much further could they sink in society’s eyes? As in the first series, we see all the suspects – as do Cassie and Sunny – as ordinary earnest people trying their best to get through life – none wearing the black hats of the ‘baddies’ in other dramas – but all suffering from and reacting badly to the ‘natural shocks that flesh is heir to’.
The series continues to be good at showing the footslogging and phone-bashing coppers do in real life – light bulb moments in real life are few and far between.
Still imagining Sanjeev Bhaskar in his bra and knickers…