The search for a ‘new’ detective format seems to be reaching overdrive now.
We’ve had just about as many troubled coppers with ruined home lives or corrupted morals as we can handle, it seems. So the hunt for investigative innovation is one of the biggest television challenges of the day.
New Britbox series Magpie Murders might just have the least likely candidate of all: a middle aged book editor.
This might sound unusual, but the most surprising thing about the new bingeable series is that it actually works, and works very well.
Of course, casting the peerless Lesley Manville in the lead role as a London publishing executive in crisis is a masterstroke, and she is as amazing as you’d expect.
But it’s also a genuinely fun and fresh, multi-layered delight.
Manville’s beleaguered Susan is perusing the latest work of blockbuster mystery writer Alan Conway (Conleth Hill) when she is hit with a double disaster: he’s failed to submit the final chapter of his latest book, and before they can chase him up for it it, he’s found dead at his mansion in Suffolk.
With the future of her company and career at stake — and a lifetime of editing crime thrillers making her spidey-sense tingle at the circumstances of his death — she sets off to the author’s handily suspect-filled village to investigate.
At the same time, she is reading the final book — about German PI Atticus Pünd solving crimes in 50s England — which appears to have several insightful parallels with the author’s life and associates - and we see the events played out in between and amidst Susan’s real world inquiries.
This is great fun, and definitely worth your time if you’re after something different, charming and clever.
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Manville is — as always — great to watch and has such incredible humanity that you can’t help but root for her during her personal and professional crises and dilemmas. She's always fun, and fierce.
The rest of the cast include Daniel Mays, Conleth Hill, Pippa Haywood and Tim McMullan, while an impressive creative team is headed up by director Peter Cattaneo, the man responsible for The Full Monty and Military Wives as well as TV show Rev.
It’s written by Anthony Horowitz, the Alex Rider author and current holder of the flame for the James Bond books, who adapts from his own novel of the same name.
Magpie Murders is definitely more like Pie in the Sky than Prime Suspect, but don’t let its charm fool you.
This is sharply written, clever and one of the most original takes on the telly tec format in ages.
Magpie Murders is available to stream on BritBox from February 10.