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John Harvey

THE TV DETECTIVES . . . Part one

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While nothing beats a good book, detectives on TV come a close second. At the age of 72 I have seen a fair few of these small screen sleuths, and I’ve made a purely subjective list of the best twenty five. My shortlist ran to well over sixty, and if some who didn’t make the cut are your personal favourites, then please accept my commiserations. It’s also worth saying that of my twenty five, the majority are adaptations of books.

First, my criteria for inclusion. My choices are all British productions featuring British actors and, with two exceptions, mostly British settings. I’ve excluded ensemble police procedurals such as Z Cars, The Bill and Waking The Dead. I have, regretfully, left out my all time classic TV crime drama Callan, because dear old David wasn’t so much a detective as an enforcer or a cleaner-up of the messes created by his shadowy employers. Each of my choices has a readily identifiable – and sometimes eponymous – leading character, to the extent that were the man or woman on the proverbial omnibus shown a photograph of, for example, George Baker, they would say, “Ah yes – Wexford!” Please feel free to vent your outrage at omissions or inclusions via the usual social media networks, but here goes:

0025Victorian coppers were not new to TV when this Sergeant Cribb, based on the excellent Peter Lovesey novels, first aired. There had already been several attempts at the Holmes canon, and way back in 1963 John Barrie starred as Sergeant Cork. Although a serial, rather than a series, the 1959 version of The Moonstone featured the great Patrick Cargill as Sergeant Cuff, possibly the first fictional detective. Where Sergeant Cribb came to life was through the superbly dry and acerbic characterisation of Alan Dobie, aided and abetted by the ever-dependable William Simons. Neither did it hurt that most of the episodes were written by Peter Lovesey himself. (1980 – 1981)

0024I am sure the loss is all mine, but of the Golden Age female crime writers I have found Agatha Christie the least interesting, despite her ingenious plotting and ability to create atmosphere. Mea Culpa, I suppose, but it would be reckless not to include Miss Marple in this list. Geraldine McEwan and Julia McKenzie have their admirers, but Joan Hickson is, surely, the Miss Marple? Her series (1984 – 1992) was certainly the most canonical and, if the anecdote is to be believed, Agatha Christie herself once sent a note to the younger Hickson hoping that she would, one day, play the Divine Miss M.

0023Small, aggressive, punchy and with hard earned bags under his eyes, Mark McManus was Taggart. Before he drank himself to death, McManus drove the Glasgow cop show, repaired its engine and polished its bodywork to perfection. It was Scottish Noir before the term had come into common parlance. Bleak, abrasive, unforgiving and with a killer theme song, Taggart was a one-off. The series limped on after McManus died but it was never the same again. (1983 – 1995)

0022Who knows what the lady herself would have made of David Suchet’s Poirot? Her family are said to have approved, and for sheer over-the-top bravura, Suchet’s mincing and mannered portrayal has to be admired. The production values were always immense from day one in 1989 and by the time the series finished in 2013, every major work by Agatha Christie which featured Poirot had made its way onto the screen. The supporting cast was every bit as good, with Hugh Fraser as Hastings and Philip Jackson as the permanently one-step-behind Inspector Japp.

0021For me, the Golden Age Queen was Dorothy L Sayers and my permanent Best Ever Crime Novel is The Nine Tailors, so it is a relatively brief series (1972 – 1975) featuring Lord Peter Wimsey that makes its way into this list. Some DLS buffs refer the slightly more cerebral Edward Petherbridge version, but my vote goes to Ian Carmichael. He played up the more foppish and scatty side of Wimsey’s nature, but he also managed to convey, underneath the gaiety, the fact that Wimsey was something of a war hero, and his recovery from wounds and shell shock was due in no small part to his relationship with his former Sergeant, Mervyn Bunter.

0020Just as on the printed page, TV crime series have more Detective Inspectors than you can shake a retractable police baton at. The first to make it into my selection is, perhaps, not so well known to the general reading public, but a firm favourite with those of us who kid ourselves that we are connoisseurs. Charlie Resnick is a creation of that most cerebral of crime novelists, John Harvey. He is distinctly downbeat and his ‘patch’ is the resolutely unfashionable midlands town of Nottingham. There were eleven novels featuring the jazz loving detective, but only two of them were televised. Lonely Hearts screened in three parts in 1992, while Rough Treatment had two parts, and was broadcast a year later. Both screenplays were written by John Harvey himelf, and Tom Wilkinson brought a lonely and troubled complexity to the main role.

0019 Van der Valk took us to Amsterdam for an impressive five series, based on the novels by Nicolas Freeling. Freeling tired of his creation, and killed him off after eleven novels. He resisted the clamour to resurrect him, but did write two more books featuring the late cop’s widow. The TV series was, by way of contrast, milked for all it was worth, and Barry Foster played Commissaris Piet van der Valk against authentic Dutch settings. Amsterdam’s reputation for sleaze, sex and substances did the series no harm at all in the eyes of British sofa-dwellers. Theme tunes are an integral part of any successful series and Eye Level took on a life of its own, improbably reaching No. 1 in the British pop charts in 1973. Noel Edmunds’ barnet is irresistible, is it not?https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zvesdlGe-EI

0018Most of my TV detectives are upright beings, not to say moral and public spirited. The East Anglian antique dealer Lovejoy was, by contrast, one of life’s chancers and, to borrow a phrase much used by local newspapers when some petty criminal has met a bad end, ‘a lovable rogue.’ Ian McShane and his impeccable mullet brought much joy to British homes on many a Sunday evening between 1986 and 1994. Lovejoy was always out for a quick quid, but like an Arthur Daley with a conscience, he always had an eye out for ‘the little guy’. McShane was excellent, but he had brilliant back-up in the persons of Phyllis Logan as the ‘did-they-didn’t-they’ posh totty Lady Jane Felsham, and the incomparable and much missed Dudley Sutton as Tinker Dill.

0017The TV version of the Vera  books by Ann Cleeves is now into its quite astonishing tenth series and the demand for stories has long since outstripped the original novels. Close-to-retirement Northumbrian copper Vera Stanhope is still played by Brenda Blethyn, but her fictional police colleagues – as well as the screenwriters – have seen wholesale changes since it first aired in 2011. Why does the series do so well? Speaking cynically, there are several important contemporary boxes that it ticks. Principally, its star is a woman and it is set in the paradoxically fashionable North of England.The potential for scenic atmosphere is limitless, of course, but the core reason for its enduring popularity is the superb acting of Blethyn, and the fact that Cleeves has put together a toolkit of very clever and marketable elements. Vera will probably outlast me, and a new series is already commissioned for 2021.

0016The creation of Cadfael was an act of pure genius by scholar and linguist Edith Pargetter, better known as Ellis Peters. Not only was the 12th century sleuth a devout Benedictine monk, but he had come to the cloisters only after a career as a soldier, sailor and – with a brilliant twist – a lover, as we learned that he has a son, conceived while he was fighting as a Crusader in Antioch. In the TV series which ran from 1994 until 1998, Derek Jacobi brought to the screen a superb blend of inquisitiveness, saintliness and a worldly wisdom which his fellow monks lacked, due to their entering the monastery before they had lived any kind of life. Modern times prevented the productions from being filmed in Cadfael’s native Shropshire, and they opted instead for Hungary!

0015When my next series choice was aired in 1977, the producers had no confidence that either the name of its author, or that of its central character, would be a crowd puller, and so they called it Murder Most English. The four-part series consisted of adaptations of novels written by Colin Watson, and in print they were part of his Flaxborough Chronicles, twelve novels in total. Inspector Purbright, played by Anton Rodgers, is an apparently placid small town policeman, but a man who sees more than he says, and someone who has a sharp eye for the corruption and scheming endemic among the councillors and prominent citizens of Flaxborough – a fictional town loosely based on Boston, Lincolnshire, where Watson worked as a journalist for many years. The TV Purbright was perhaps rather more Holmesian – with his pipe and tweeds –  than Watson had intended, but the original novels Hopjoy Was Here, Lonelyheart 4122, The Flaxborough Crab and Coffin Scarcely Used, were lovingly treated. Unusually, for a TV production, the filming was done in a location not too far from the fictional Flaxborough – the Lincolnshire market town of Alford, just 25 miles from Watson’s Boston workplace. Click this link to learn more about Colin Watson and his books.

The next ten choices in my survey of the best TV detectives
follows soon –
keep an eye out on TWITTER

 

BODY AND SOUL . . . Between the covers

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A police detective may like to think he can just walk away from the job that has consumed most of his adult life. He is entitled to believe that a new life in a remote Cornish cottage will wash away the blood of the countless victims whose cases he has investigated, and wipe the images of their broken bodies from his eyes. If anyone is entitled to joys of retirement, it is Frank Elder.

But being a copper isn’t the only thing he has walked away from. There is the wife who betrayed his trust, but more crucially there is the daughter, Katherine whose own life has been fractured, partly by her parents falling out of love, but more savagely by the fact that she herself was at the heart of one of Elder’s cases, when she was abducted, abused and violated by a psychotic killer.

Body and SoulWhile Elder whittles away his time helping out the local police force with difficult cases, and his wife gets on with her own life, Katherine is eking out an existence in a North London flat share, trying to hide the scars – both real and figurative – of her abduction. She has taken to modelling for life drawing classes in an effort to pay the rent independent of her mother’s generosity, and this has led her into a relationship with a highly respected artist whose career is on a definite upward surge.

When the artist is found brutally murdered on the floor of his studio, Elder is drawn into the case, first as a suspect himself, albeit briefly, but then in defence of Katherine who the police, in the absence of any other suspects or motives, have decided is a person of interest.

What follows is a multi-faceted precious stone. We have a police procedural, viewed largely through the eyes of the investigating officer in London. We have a whodunnit? with a clever set of misdirections – and clues both false and real. We have John Harvey’s quietly elegant prose, clever observation of character and deep sympathy for decent but flawed individuals who have made wrong choices in their lives. But then – and it is an explosive “but then” – something happens, something unthinkable, something potentially life-changing for Elder and his family, and the whole focus of the novel swings violently in an unforeseen direction.

In my mind I am moving this fine novel from the shelf marked Crime Fiction to the place where I put memorable books that leave a lasting impression. Call them literary fiction if you will, but names and categories aren’t worth a penny piece. Body and Soul is an elegy on everlasting themes that have seared the hearts of great writers down the years. It is about death; it is about regret and longing; it is about duty, loyalty and people who do what they think to be right despite a chorus of lesser mortals who are chanting, “leave it – forget it – don’t get involved.”

john-harveyBody and Soul also takes an unflinching look at how love in itself is sometimes not enough – or possibly too much. I read elsewhere that this is to be John Harvey’s last novel. If this is the case then regret is permissible, but dismay would be churlish. We can only thank John Harvey (right) for his matchless legacy. Body and Soul is published by William Heinemann, and is available now.

HOWEVER – and here’s a thing – if you would like a hardback copy of this brilliant novel, I have one (just the one, sadly) up for grabs. The winner will be decided by a draw from a proverbial hat (actually a random number generator, but scrupulously fair!) How do you enter? Dead easy, and you have three ways to enter.

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  • On Twitter, just click the ‘heart’ box under one of the many posts about this book. My Twitter name is @MaliceAfore

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  • On Facebook, go to the Fully Booked page and ‘Like’ the post.

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JUST A FEW TaCs:

(1) One entry per person, please.
(2) The competition closes at 10.00pm GMT on Sunday 13th May.
(3) Because of postage costs, the competition is open only to readers in Britain, the Irish Republic and mainland Europe.

THE POSTMAN DELIVERS . . . Hartwell & Harvey

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Many thanks to the good people at Camel Press in Seattle and, a little closer to home, William Heinemann for the latest delivery. Two books, very different in style and content. Elena Hartwell brings us the latest case for her intrepid PI, Eddie Shoes. Expect the great outdoors – in this case, Washington State – and a dead body or two. In what he says is the final Frank Elder novel, John Harvey is in more sombre and reflective mood as his retired copper battles to protect his daughter.

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Elena Hartwell (above) is a former actress who now shares her time between writing novels, teaching, editing – and looking after her horses, cats, dog and husband, but not necessarily in that order. She lives on a farm in Washington State, and you can find out more by visiting her website.

John Harvey (below) is a native of Nottingham, as are his fictional characters Charlie Resnick and Frank Elder. Harvey is widely regarded as one of the most thoughtful and accomplished modern crime writers and it is no surprise, given the quality of his writing, that his poetry is also highly thought of. You can find him on the web here.

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THREE STRIKES, YOU’RE DEAD will be available in April 2018

BODY & SOUL will be available in April 2018

CORNERSTONE CELEBRITIES (and a cracker of a competition!)

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I was lucky enough to receive an invite to Crimenight, an event hosted by Cornerstone, which is part of the Penguin group and one of the most successful commercial imprints in the UK. It was a chance to rub shoulders and swap yarns with some of the biggest names in crime fiction – and a couple of people who have a foot on the first rungs of the ladder.

Back L-R: John Harvey, Phil Redmond, Anthony Horowitz, Tony Parsons, Simon Kernick
Front L-R: Araminta Hall, Selina Walker (Publisher, Century and Arrow), Amy Lloyd, Lisa Jewell

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Getting the celebrity name-drop out of the way first, it was brilliant to be able to shake hands and chat with Tony Parsons, one of my favourite current UK crime writers – check out the review of his most recent Max Wolfe novel Die Last, and you can see why. He is a genuinely nice guy and right up at the top of my list. Was I starstruck? Well, yes, just a little, because in addition to Tony, John Harvey, the creator of Charlie Resnick and Frank Elder, was in attendance, as was thriller specialist Simon Kernick, award-winning producer and screenwriter Phil Redmond (Grange Hill, Brookside and Hollyoaks look pretty good on his CV),and Lisa Jewell, who has a string of best-selling domestic thrillers like The Third Wife and  I Found You under her belt. You can win a copy of her latest, Then She Was Gone, at the end of this feature.

The amazingly versatile Anthony Horowitz was another of the guests who has featured on Fully Booked before. Horowitz, as well as having millions of us glued to the small screen on Sunday nights with his brilliant Foyle’s War series, and writing the best selling Alex Rider novels aimed at young adults, has also written Sherlock Holmes adventures and stand-alone CriFi. Take at a look at our review of The Word Is Murder, his most recent novel.

OKOC007It was a privilege to talk to two authors who represent the next generation of fine crime writers. Amy Lloyd is from Cardiff, but her debut novel is set far, far away in the badlands of Florida. The Innocent Wife tells the story of a convicted killer whose claims to innocence attract the attentions of the worldwide media – and those of Samantha, a young woman from England. She is obsessed with his case and, after an intense relationship based on letters, she leaves home and marries him. It is only when the campaign for his release is successful that Samantha’s problems begin in a deadly fashion. Amy, by the way, has already won the Daily Mail and Penguin Random House First Novel Competition with The Innocent Wife.

OKOC006Araminta Hall is no novice author, as she has written successful psychological thrillers such as Everything and Nothing. Her latest novel Our Kind Of Cruelty is due to be published in 2018, and it concerns a couple, Mike and Verity, whose relationship features a deadly game called the Crave. Mike describes the rules:

“The rules of the Crave were very simple. V and I went to a nightclub in a pre-determined place a good way from where we lived, but entered separately. We made our way to the bar and stood far enough apart to seem that we weren’t together, but close enough that I could always keep her in vision.”

Verity basically makes herself very visible, catching the eyes of any lone male who might be interested, and then drawing him into her web with her stunning looks and overt sexuality. Then, the game kicks in:

“We have a signal: as soon as she raises her hand and pulls on the silver eagle she always wears around her neck I must act. In those dark throbbing rooms I would push through the mass of people, pulling at the useless man drooling over her, and ask him what he was doing talking to my girlfriend.”

When the relationship eventually sours, and Verity needs to move, she finds to her cost that the perverse twist in her relationship with Mike cannot be simply cast off like an unwanted piece of clothing.

TSWGLisa Jewell knows a thing or three about locating the strings that pull on a reader’s senses, particularly those of anxiety, sympathy and tension. In Then She Was Gone she tweaks these strings to maximum effect with the story of a woman whose life is shattered when her fifteen year-old daughter disappears without trace or reason. Ten years pass and, while Laurel will never come to terms with Ellie’s disappearance, she has learned to live with the numbness. Her life seems to be taking a turn for the better when she is begins a relationship with an intriguing man called Floyd. The intrigue, however, turns to shock when she meets his young daughter – who is the spitting image of the her missing Ellie.

To win a hardback copy of Then She Was Gone, simply email us at the address below, putting Lisa Jewell in the subject box, or go to the Fully Booked Facebook page and ‘like’ the post. The winner will be drawn from all entries received. The competition closes at 10.00pm GMT on Sunday 8th October. On this occasion, we will be unable to send the prize to the USA due to postal costs.

https://www.facebook.com/Fully-Booked-1636117530014098/

fullybooked2016@yahoo.com

 

 

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