I’m heading south to the urban sprawl of Manchester, to meet a very different kind of copper, one who lives at the dark end of the street. Aidan Waits was memorably brought to life (and death, I think) by Joseph Knox.
Aidan Waits inhabits a place where it never seems to be fully daylight, a world where he rubs shoulders with drug dealers and their customers, a city where violence is a common currency, and streets where broken hearts and disappointment walk hand in hand. Noir? Certainly, and probably the best British example of the genre in recent years. It’s not just Waits who is a creature of the darkness. His immediate boss, the ironically named DS Peter Sutcliffe, is a pretty awful specimen of both man and copper. They both glow with a certain righteousness only when they stand next to the repulsive Zane Carver, Waits’s sworn enemy and nemesis. If you click the image below, you will be able to read reviews of the three Aidan Waits novels, Sirens, The Smiling Man and The Sleepwalker.
Next, I am going to a different place and time altogether. Back through the centuries, and to a place that was considerably less dystopian than Joseph Knox’s Hieronymus Bosch-like Manchester. Shrewsbury in the early 12th century was, like most other towns, no stranger to dark deeds and the general venality of its inhabitants, but in the Brother Cadfael novels by Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter) there is virtue to be found as well as kindness and redemption. There were 21 novels featuring the crime-solving Benedictine monk, beginning with A Morbid Taste for Bones (1977) and concluding with Brother Cadfael’s Penance (1994). It wouldn’t be fair to call the series ‘cosy’, but readers certainly became comfortable with the vividly authentic period settings, the intriguing crimes, and Cadfael’s own blend of worldliness – as befitted a man who was a former soldier – and Christian benevolence. So, what was Cadfael’s story?
For many people, the Cadfael stories will have been defined by the excellent TV versions, starring Derek Jacobi. That’s absolutely fine, and his portrayal must be added to the surprisingly short list of definitive adaptations that matched and enhanced the printed word. In my view, only John Thaw’s Morse, David Jason’s Jack Frost, Roy Marsden’s Adam Dalgliesh and David Suchet’s Poirot should be included, although there is – due to the number of options – a separate debate about Sherlock Holmes. For the record, it is Jeremy Brett for me, but that’s a discussion for another day. Go back to the printed word, though, for the most subtle and multi- layered portrait of Brother Cadfael – one of crime fiction’s immortals.