The Killing Times Top 20 Crime Dramas Of The Decade: Part One, 20-16

The big countdown starts here.

It’s hard to believe, but this is the last year of this decade.

And, every decade-end deserves a list of epic proportions.

You could say that the 2010s was the decade that crime drama enjoyed a real renaissance. We haven’t enjoyed so much quality TV crime drama before, and with such frequency. Procedurals, gangland dramas, cosy crime, whodunits, whydunits, reinterpretations of classics, pacy thrillers… everything you can think of we’ve had in abundance.

With so many crime dramas to choose from, how have we whittled it all down to 20? There has been a vaguely scientific method to our selections, but it’s too boring to go into. The only thing we insisted on was that each series started in the 2010s, which is why something like Breaking Bad and Spiral isn’t on the list, even though, in the case of Breaking Bad, it finished in 2013 and Spiral is still going strong.

All you need to know is that a list of 20 – to be rolled out over this week and the next – has been compiled and you’re more than welcome to agree or disagree with it. That’s what lists are for, right?

But first, we need to doff our caps to those who didn’t quite make it onto the list (all excellent nonetheless). Shetland, Endeavour, Vera, The Fall, Boardwalk Empire, Thorne, Bosch, Gomorrah, Big Little Lies and The Fields Of Blood all are very good indeed, and we will continue to enjoy many of them.

So here we go…


20 Luther
UK Channel: BBC One
Date broadcast: 2010
Episodes: 20
Has there been a new British detective as iconic as John Luther?

Idris Elba, returning to the UK after his stint in legendary US series The Wire, took to the role of avenging angel like a duck to water.

John Luther was a superhero in the Batman mould – wracked, traumatised, angry and brooding. He even had his own version of a cape, a weather-beaten overcoat that he could not and would not be separated from.

After the murder of his wife, his moral compass went haywire, and his nothing-to-lose attitude pushed him into places and situations that no one else would dare go, even if this approach bent the rules on numerous occasions and led to the death of his beloved partner, DS Justin Ripley. He chased serial killers with fearless zeal and formed an intense, internecine relationship with one of them – Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson). Again, highly irregular and against the rules.

John Luther liked to break the rules.

Part horror movie, part procedural and part avenging angel story, Luther was a detective series the likes of which we hadn’t seen before. It wavered in quality, but when it hit its mark it was proper watch-through-your-fingers stuff – tense and scary.

We said: “It has helped to solidify Idris Elba’s status as a household name and as a CILF (work it out yourself), but more importantly it has introduced us to another angry detective, Neil Cross’s creation involving himself in some thrilling, terrifying cases and some intriguing character dynamics that placed this iconic character in the grey area between good and bad. “


19 Hinterland
UK Channel: S4C/BBC Four
Date broadcast: 2013
Episodes: 25
In the wake of Scandinavian hits like The Killing and The Bridge, along came Hinterland/Y Gwyll, which ushered in a new sub-genre – Cymru Noir. Originally broadcast in its native Welsh on S4C – and then later in English on BBC Four – it was the story of DCI Tom Mathias (a perfectly cast Richard Harrington), a tormented and traumatised detective who had relocated to the stark Ceredigion region.

Together with a new team, Mathias investigated crimes that featured forgotten communities and forgotten people. Shot like a Spaghetti Western, it was slow, intense and put Wales on the map when it came to crime drama.

We said: “As we left Mathias standing on the Aberystwyth shoreline, we too took stock of another series that featured fractured lives of the Ceredigion population centre stage; those forgotten folk of the hills and in the towns that had been ground down by poverty, old grudges and all-pervading bitterness.”


18 Ripper Street
UK Channel: BBC One
Date broadcast: 2012
Episodes: 37
We exhaled a collective sigh when it was announced there was to be yet another series connected to the infamous Ripper murders of Victorian London. But over five series – which ended up being a co-production with Amazon Prime –  we were transported to a world of grimy London streets, a nascent police force struggling with the trauma of a vicious killer at large and characters that you invested in.

A world beautifully realised, Richard Warrilow’s fruity, delicious language recalled Deadwood in its pomp and provided a final scene that was as surprising as it was hard-hitting.

We said: “The years of trying to keep them safe had taken its toll on Edmund Reid – as he vanquished two more nemeses and saw friends, family and colleagues come and go, he was left alone in his office, twisted and poisoned by experience, an addict with no way out. He could not do without the streets, and the streets would not let him go. As far as endings go, it was one of the most interesting and melancholy we’ve ever seen.”


17 Sherlock
UK Channel: BBC One
Date broadcast: 2010
Episodes: 12
When Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss take on hallowed crime drama icon Sherlock Holmes, you have to sit up and take notice.

Transported to the 21st century, Sherlock Holmes still lived in Baker Street but was now played by the excellent Benedict Cumberbatch in a role that would catapult him to global superstardom. Alongside him was the perfectly cast Martin Freeman as Dr Watson, a traumatised Afghanistan veteran.

Together there’s was a new partnership rooted in the old ways. And the crimes they investigated? Modern and terrifying, pacy and dangerous, sexy and world-shattering. Old villains in new situations, clever twists and turns… it could only be Moffat and Gatiss.

We said: “If this is to be the end – and it certainly looked that way – Moffatt and Gatiss managed to centre on what Sherlock Holmes is good at, and the essence of his addiction: solving puzzles and getting out of seemingly impossible-to-escape situations. The only difference here was that the stakes were as high as they’ve ever been.”


16 Hannibal
UK Channel: Sky Living
Date broadcast: 2013
Episodes: 39
Can bloody, brutal murder ever be beautiful? Hannibal made a pretty good case that it could. No other show in crime drama history was as bloody or as artful. A victim displayed like a human firefly, hanging on a wall? Check. Eighteen people (18!) murdered and then stacked into a totem pole shape? Check. A murderer who flayed the skin off the backs of his victims and moulded them into angel beings? Why, of course.

Another iteration of the 1988 Thomas Harris novel, this Hannibal Lecter (played expertly by Mads Mikkelsen) was equally as cerebral and as cold and as calculating as the previous incarnations (perhaps even more so), but this time we had 39 episodes in which to gorge and wallow in his hypnotic miasma.

Through these three series, Hannibal Lecter engaged in relationships that often ended in death. He manipulated poor profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) with terrifying grace and ease, went head-to-head with FBI man Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) as well as his own psychiatrist Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson), and served Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jack Krendler’s (Ray Liotta) brains to him at a dinner party.

A remarkable, nightmarish vortex of a series.

They said: “Maybe it was too weird, maybe it was too gruesome. But it was, all puns intended, bloody good.”





9 Comments Add yours

  1. Mark Andrew says:

    The Fall, Boardwalk Empire, and Bosch didn’t make the list. Interesting. But Hinterland / Y Gwyll was a nice surprise. Much appreciated.


  2. I would definitely have Hinterland higher up than 19. It was so brilliant. Loving this top 20 overall though!


    1. Patty C says:

      I agree NordicNoirBuzz. Hinterland is still with me. It was also groundbreaking for Welsh crime drama.


      1. Do you remember the episode when they were in the cottage playing Russian roulette? That episode was up there with a Shakespearean play for me. I’ll never forget it.


  3. Patty C says:

    Oh yes, NordicNoirBuzz- with the great Mark Lewis Jones. So many excellent moments, great acting, scenery, plot- very well done. I also think Richard Harrington deserves the lead in another show. It’d be great to get more Hinterland but I don’t think that will happen.


  4. Simon Nieper says:

    Shetland out you reckon? I really like that, right up there for me.


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