Amid all the sumptuous period romps, shiny spy thrillers and true crime series, we’ve been somewhat starved of a superior police drama on our screens this year. The closest thing was Line of Duty this spring, which was more anti-corruption procedural than old-fashioned murder-solver.
I’ve missed grim-faced coppers wearing overcoats, wielding warrant cards and ducking under police tape at crime scenes. This meant the highly promising Dublin Murders (BBC One) was a most welcome addition to the schedules.
The macabre mystery is set in the summer of 2006, at the height of Ireland’s “Celtic Tiger” economic boom. Deep in the woods beside Knocknaree housing estate – an impoverished community seemingly untouched by the upturn – the body of a gifted young ballerina was found laid out on an ancient stone altar.
DS Rob Reilly (chain-smoking, jaw-flexing Killian Scott) and fiery sidekick DC Cassie Maddox (acclaimed stage actress Sarah Greene, not to be confused with the Blue Peter presenter) were dispatched to investigate. They wielded warrant cards, ducked under crime scene tape and even wore overcoats, albeit shorter, sharper ones than sleuths of yore.
From creepy flashbacks to a similar case back in 1985 – there are few scenes more foreboding than a lone, frightened-looking child riding a bike into a forest – we gradually learned that the detectives had an intense psychological connection to the case. This was a tale of two Irelands and two time frames, nimbly interwoven.
We usually have to wait until Christmas for a fresh creation from one of our most gifted screenwriters, Sarah Phelps, who adapts the BBC’s annual festive Agatha Christie whodunit. Here we unwrapped our gift early, since it’s Phelps who has skilfully distilled this eight-part autumnal treat from Tana French’s bestselling Dublin Murder Squad novels.
This was typical Phelps: knotty, earthy and unsettlingly atmospheric, scripted with urgency and verve. The two terrific leads formed a charismatic duo, displaying all the well-honed tricks, easy rapport and instinctive understanding that real-life partners develop. Conleth Hill (aka Lord Varys from Game of Thrones) chewed scenery as their sardonic, sweary boss Superintendent O’Kelly.
Pitched somewhere between a Nordic noir and a classic episode of Cracker, this dark, intriguing series has already wormed its way under my skin. Fortunately, it’s airing every Monday and Tuesday, so we don’t have long to wait for our next fix.