by Kathleen Costa
BritBox is one of my “good” vices. It’s harmless. It’s healthy. It’s highly economical. For less than a cappuccino and a scone (monthly $6.99; special annual fee $69.99), I get endless hours of entertainment from which I can choose a sitcom, detective drama, mystery, documentary, and much more set in an urban community to the countryside and all over the Commonwealth. Easy access through the app or .com, any device is your key to programs with excellent video and audio quality. This fall finds many personal favorites still available for binging like Good Neighbors, Rosemary & Thyme, and Prime Suspect, but also new seasons and brand new shows like Shetland, and Karen Pirie. All this and more and no calories!
Shetland is back for a seventh season with bittersweet news. This will be Douglas Henshall’s swan song; he’s packing up and calling it “case closed.” His portrayal of DI Jimmy Perez, based on the novels by Ann Cleeves, has become an iconic role. With his departure, it is curious as to who would replace him, but he will be replaced and the series will go on with filming scheduled for Spring of 2023…Whew! Alison O’Donnell as DS Alison “Tosh” McIntosh will return along with Steven Robertson (DC Sandy Wilson) and Lewis Howden (Sgt. Billy McCabe), so the show will maintain an air of familiarity.
Season six cliffhanger had Perez’s childhood friend Duncan Hunter turning himself into the police, DI Jimmy Perez suspended for misconduct, and Tosh’s pregnancy test a positive. What a way to leave fans for a year! Season seven picks up months later with Duncan in jail with little hope of dodging time for assisting in a suicide, but murder charges may be avoided, Jimmy gets the all clear of any wrongdoing with permission to return to work, and Tosh having been in charge while Perez was suspended is enjoying motherhood. The team is back and the first case in front of them is the disappearance of a young man, Connor Cairns.Connor Cairns, described as a sensitive young man, is an up and coming graphic artist set to publish his first novel, The Wulver, based on local legend, but the fact he had once before attempted suicide has the family frantic and the search imperative. The family runs a local B&B with one guest acting suspiciously, and the missing teen’s friends seem privy to something they aren’t sharing with authorities. However, it’s the father’s background as a disgraced cop that seems to be the best lead.
Earns 5+/5 North Sea Sunsets. The six episodes focused closely on the desperate search for the missing young man, but the scrutiny on his family causes serious breakdowns and break-ups, and his friends and acquaintances are also under suspicion precipitating a few premature arrests. Two more bodies are discovered which sends the investigation in a dangerous direction, identities are exposed, lives are in jeopardy, and Perez is deeply effected by some of the unforeseen consequences. The drama was complex, intense, and with all the episodes available on BritBox, I didn’t have to wait when someone’s identity or condition was left up in the air. Knowing that this was the last season for Douglas Henshall and his DI Jimmy Perez, created an intense experience where every dark alley or tense soundtrack had been worried the worst was to happen. I’ve watched too many programs with a key character making their farewell tour, and was either angered by some gratuitous incident or brought to tears for its poignant “fade to black.” I was, however, pleased with the ending and the future it eluded to for each key character.
Karen Pirie (BritBox | Original) is a brand new three-episode drama adapted from The Distant Echo, a novel by Val McDermid, and like Ann Cleeves’ Shetland, it is also set in Scotland. Lauren Lyle (Outlander) is twenty-eight-year-old DS Karen Pirie whose promotion has her joining the SPS Historic Cases Unit. Her team, loosely called a team, since it consists of one other officer: DC Jason “Mint” Murray (Chris Jenks). She laughs at his nickname (Murray Mints) and comments she’d like one, too. He remarks she’s got one, but in his embarrassment, changes the subject and doesn’t tell her. It can’t be flattering. She’s a capable officer, intuitive, driven, but learns, due to how the review of the cold case appears to the public, it was her gender that got her the position not merit.
The Case. It’s 1996, St. Andrews, a big crowd gathers at a local bar watching the big football match, and after accepting an invitation to join three guys at a party, the barmaid, Rosemary Duff (Anna Russell-Martin), winds up dead…strangled and stabbed and left in the Cathedral’s graveyard. The three guys are there, bloodied, flag down a cop, yelling they didn’t do it and were only trying to help. No arrest. No charges. No closure.Fast forward twenty-five years…A regular review of unsolved cases is common if not required, yet nothing was done with the Rosie Duff case, not until podcaster Bel Richmond, known for her stories spotlighting shoddy police work and victim blaming, made the case a subject of her program: Echoes: the Rosie Duff Case. Unable to name the three suspects since no charges were made, Richmond refers to the three persons of interest using aliases: “The historian,” now a university lecturer; “The artist,” with no social media footprint; “The medic” now a celebrated surgeon. Richmond is known for her provocative productions having embarrassed the Met over another botched cold case, so if the police underestimate this “woke millennial [who] found a microphone,” it could be bad PR for them.
The Review. DS Karen Pirie and DC Murray set out organizing the pertinent information referring to police files, forensic reports, interview video tapes, CCTV, witness accounts, and boxes of evidence. Their legwork, however, is hampered by the passage of time, demolition of key sites, and people, important to the review of facts, purposely evasive, or with memories flawed or they’re dead. There is a truth out there, and DS Pirie is determined to find it even without her superiors’ full support. The three guys, now men, have a lot more to lose if it’s told. The victim’s family, too, have their own secrets. The police have a reputation to uphold even after twenty five years.
ICYMI—BBF River Wilde is Emer Kenny well known as Bunty Windermere in the iconic series Father Brown. She is also the driving force behind the creation of the show for television as she wrote the script. Smart writing!
“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive” —Sir Walter Scott.
Earns 5+/5 Tangled Webs. In my book, Karen Pirie is a top favorite, and with several more McDermid books in the series available, I hope many more seasons to come. McDermid’s cold case drama is masterfully presented through the present day police work, the podcaster’s own research and online program, and the use of flashbacks that illustrated the evidence as well as the inner thoughts and nightmares of the key figures involved. In the flashbacks, details play out that later become facts known to the investigators. The lies are exposed, the truth is revealed, and justice has a shocking twist. The cast is young, aka millennials, and although I recognized only one actress, they all performed well the personality of their character and kept me engaged. The inclusion of the podcast, online chat room, and various technology were contemporary elements that added greatly to the enjoyment…excellent new series!
Other Scottish Gems not to be Missed!
The Victim (2019) is a four-episode drama starring Kelly McDonald (Gosford Park; Boardwalk Empire) as grieving mother Anna Dean who is accused of conspiring to murder Craig Meyers (James Harkness), a suspect in her son’s murder fifteen years prior. Is this a case of a child killer or mistaken identity? Also starring John Hannah (Rebus; Wire in the Blood) as DI Stephen Grover. Earns 5/5 Courtroom Dramas.
Stonemouth (2015) is a two-episode drama based on Scottish author Iain Bank’s novel starring Christian Cooke as Stewart Gilmour. Stewart returns to his childhood home of Stonemouth, a fictional town north of Aberdeen, where he tries to uncover the truth behind his best friend’s apparent suicide. He also is confront with his own scandal that caused him to retreat to London two years before. The obstacles, peril, and a mob family make for a dangerous situation. Also stars Peter Mullan (Mum; Braveheart) as the local mob leader Don Murston. Earns 5/5 Scottish Dramas.
In Plain Sight (2016) is a three-episode drama based on true crime events in the 1950s starring Douglas Henshall (Shetland) as Sergeant William Muncie and his efforts to bring to justice U.S. born Peter Manuel (Martin Compston: Line of Duty) known as the “Beast of Birkenshaw.” The criminality and audaciousness of the serial killer scarred the community, and those scars led many of the real-life families of the victims to protest the production. Also starring James Harkness (The Victim). Earns 5/5 Intense Open Wounds.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also listen to our new mystery podcast where mystery short stories and first chapters are read by actors! They are also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Spotify. A new episode went up this week.
Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.