British crime novelist Peter James has enjoyed a long and award-winning career, writing 18, Brighton-set Roy Grace novels. And you can say the same for John Simm when it comes to acting – the Mancunian is an always-watchable and highly accomplished performer who’s starred in some of my favourite British series of the last 20 years (Life On Mars, The Devil’s Whore etc). On top of all that, Endeavour’s Russell Lewis has adapted one of James’s novels for the small screen.
So put all of these ingredients together in a new ITV, Sunday-night crime drama and it feels like it’s a recipe for magic.
Adapted from James’ first novel – Dead Simple – it introduces us to Detective Roy Grace (Simm), whose life is in emotional limbo after the disappearance of his wife, while his professional reputation is also falling apart: his handling of a case is being questioned in court because he once used a medium to help find a missing person.
He’s been seconded to desk duty while the court case plays out, but – wouldn’t you know it – he’s about to receive a phone call from an old friend asking for his help on a perplexing new case.
A group of young men are having a fine old time on stag do when they all pile into the back of a Transit. Unfortunately for them, they’re involved in a traffic accident outside of Brighton. Most of the lads are killed, but the groom-to-be (Michael Neward, played by Tom Weston-Jones) survives… except, he’s now missing. From the scene of the crash, the mentally impaired son of a wreckage retrieval man picks up a walkie talkie, the significance of which isn’t known at the time.
DS Glenn Branson (Richie Campbell) decides to give his old boss a call and ask for help on the case, much to the chagrin of ACC Alison Vosper (Rakie Ayola) who has reprimanded Grace for dabbling in the paranormal. Grace jumps at the chance to imbue a new purpose into his working life, and why wouldn’t he? However, despite the resolutely chirpy Branson leading the investigation, he more or less acquiesces leadership to Grace, either consciously or subconsciously.
As the small team investigates the case, different, disturbing elements begin to emerge.
It turns out Michael is a hotshot property developer, whose business partner Mark (Matt Stokoe) wasn’t able to attend his best friend’s stag do.
We’re also introduced to Michael’s fiancé, Ashley (Alisha Bailey), who explains to Grace that she had a tough upbringing and still mourns the loss of her parents in a car crash.
And that bring us to Roy Grace. He’s right out of the maverick cop mould – decent, unusually intuitive and carrying some emotional scars of his own: six years ago his wife Sandy walked out and never returned. Is she dead? Did she just leave?
So we have a Copper With Baggage© in play here, but we don’t really get to see how this really manifests itself. Sure, we see him go on a date, we often see him go jogging alone on the seafront (I must say, it is nice to see Brighton in all its glory in a crime drama), we see him take an item of Michael Neward’s to his favoured medium friend, and we see him in meetings with other people who struggle with grief. But these scenes don’t really reveal anything much of Roy Grace at all and, as a result, it’s difficult to get too much of an understanding what drives him.
By now the case taken a few turns.
It was revealed that Michael Neward was actually placed in a coffin and more or less buried alive BY HIS MATES on the stag do. He was given an air tube to breath and a walkie talkie, and the assumption was that his friends would return to let him go the following day. I mean, who needs friends etc.
(Being buried alive in a coffin is many people’s nightmares, but as much as this scenario was wince-inducing to begin with, it wasn’t really carried through. I felt they could have much more of this horrific situation and really turned the screw when it came to jeopardy and awfulness.)
Things then got quite muddled quite quickly. Mark was being set up as a baddie after it was revealed he had been having an affair with Ashley. Then, the mentally handicapped David was murdered because he had figured out how to use the walkie talkie and was on his way to free Mark from his coffin. And then Mark was killed off after succumbing to a blackmailer, who was holding Mark hostage.
Things were happening in a rush and a bit of a blur, especially when it came to the emergence of the blackmailer. Who? What? And was it Mark’s idea to put his Michael in the coffin, or was it his awful mates, or was it… Ashley?
Yes, it was Ashley all along. Grace’s team had found that she had a history all over the world of hooking up with rich property developers, using alternative identities, taking their money and leaving them after they died in mysterious circumstances. And yes, Michael Neward was to be the next.
So the plot was the plot and we can talk about it all day. In many ways it was your typical Sunday-night crime drama, which is absolutely fine. It was watchable and well acted and, thanks to Russell Lewis, the dialogue was a cut above many other crime dramas out there.
But what I was more interested in was whether Roy Grace was a keeper or not. John Simm was, as ever, hugely watchable, and there’s definitely more here to explore. There is another episode coming later in the year, so perhaps we’ll get see more of him and make more of a considered decision.
Grace is shown on ITV and is now available on ITV Hub in the UK