Crime thriller books are not very 'cool' are they? Crime thriller books are the books with the aggressive font on the bestseller shelves in book stores. They’re the books middle-aged men read. They’re the books whose promotional materials say things like "SHE THOUGHT SHE HAD EVERYTHING...BUT THEN MURDER CAME KNOCKING" alongside a picture of a teddy bear with a knife in its eye.
Every so often, a slick crime thriller slips coquettishly out of the genre and nestles itself comfortably in the Thinking Woman’s literature market; your Gone Girls, your Girl On The Trains, your Woman In The Windows. These books feature a vaguely unhinged, unreliable female protagonist, make a comment about how white men have been psychologically manipulating women forever, and the movie rights sell for millions.
There are, however, plenty of other books within the crime thriller genre that are worth your time. Irish-American Tana French’s series based on the murder investigations unit of the Dublin police is among them. These books are really good. And it turns out that the BBC, which will stream on STARZ in the U.S., also knows this, because it's turned them into Dublin Murders, a new twisty, turny, psychological TV thriller.
The books, set in Dublin and its surrounding countryside, serve as a rich look into the recent history of Ireland. From the housing crisis to widening class divides, the books, written over the last 13 years, use the country's socioeconomic issues as a backdrop to murder cases that go deeper than a quick whodunnit. Each book features a different member of the squad as the protagonist. Previous protagonists pop up in other novels, side characters come back to visit. They’re really marvelously done and, judging by how well they've sold, you probably already know this.
The adaptation has combined two books in one. It features In The Woods (told from the point of view of Detective Rob Ryan), which is great, one of the best, and The Likeness. The latter is told by Rob's partner, Detective Cassie Maddox, who is so good that I don't even care about the set-up, which is so preposterous that I still can’t believe French got away with it.
Cassie and Rob (last name changed to Reilly for the show), played by Sarah Greene and Killian Scott are, as most good detectives should be, emotionally damaged, hard-nosed and drink and smoke too much but...they’re human. They’re young and attractive (sue me, I’m shallow), and are far more accessible and relatable than the emotionally void TV detectives we’re used to. They do normal young people things like have flatmates, listen to Hot Chip (it’s set in 2006) and don’t treat the junior police like shit. It feels as if everyday people you know IRL became detectives and happened to be good at it.
Two books in one means two mysteries. But for your purposes, all you need to know to start watching is that Cassie and Rob are about to find themselves knee-deep in the murder of a 13-year-old ballet dancer who had just scored a place at the Royal Ballet School in England, making her the great hope of her left-behind town. The fact that her body was found on an altar in the woods, uncovered by an archaeological dig – the very woods her (weird) father was leading the campaign to save – adds layers of murkiness to an already bleak case. Creepy side characters send shivers down your spine and flashbacks to a previous case cause old feelings, long suppressed, to come screaming to the surface.
One frustrating point is that there appears to be a disappointing lack of diversity. A cursory IMDb of future episodes shows that this is a problem that continues. It’s a real shame for a TV show which has clearly taken steps to rectify problematic issues within the books; sexist comments made by middle-aged policemen are now challenged ferociously by Cassie, leaving the perpetrators looking foolish and chastened, unlike in the (outdated) books. It is strange therefore that the show is lacking in actors of color.
Aside from this (very tired) issue, Dublin Murders is very good indeed. It’s shot with a bleak, early winter-colored lens, despite being set in the summertime. Each new character holds a dark secret. It’s creepy but in a subtle, unsettling way; the outdated clothes of the murdered girl’s sister, the sinister emptiness of the local ballet school, the too-loud TV game show at odds with the sombre mood of the living room, the salivating eagerness of an elderly neighbor to involve herself in the case. It’s perfect for watching while the rain’s beating on the windows and the wind is whipping up the dead leaves from the pavement outside.
Dublin Murders premieres November 10 at 8 pm on STARZ