TV Review: Karen Pirie

The world might not necessarily need another crime drama but Karen Pirie is sufficiently fresh to make its mark

“I want him to spend the rest of my life wondering what I’m like”

Karen Pirie arrives on ITV as the latest crime series in a seemingly neverending chain of crime series but as written by Val McDermid and adapted by Emer Kenny, it’s actually quite refreshingly different (within reason). As a cold case show, its immediately obvious forebear is the titanic Unforgotten and this show does carry some of the same intrinsic DNA in wanting to focus as much on the victims of the cases as opposed to the tortured personal histories of those investigating it.

And in its title character, Karen Pirie nails that point of difference. Lauren Lyle’s young Scottish detective is wry – “it’s not been the greatest time to be called Karen” – and enthusiastic when promoted to head up an old case that has been garnering attention due to the efforts of a true crime podcast (Rakhee Thakrar cast brilliantly against type). Barmaid Rosie Duff was murdered 25 years ago and though three key suspects – all students – were identified, none were charged.

With the help of her sergeant Mint (an appealing Chris Jenks), their enquiries lead them to look not just at the case anew but also at the initial investigation. And as red herrings are thrown at us with abandon, as we get to see the three guys all grown up into a a surgeon, a lecturer and an artist, it soon becomes clear that the case is much more complex than the Fife police ever thought on first examination and as we well know, because there’s three 2 hour episodes to fill here.

I really enjoyed the show. As I said, the move away from the archetype of the grizzled detective with a turbulent past works a treat and Lyle carries the lead with a lovely levity. An on-off thing with a colleague neatly points up how racism and sexism (and youth) impact life in the Scottish police force but without being overbearing. A quality supporting cast flesh out extended flashback sequences and older counterparts suggest haunted pasts with skill. And the plotting is sufficiently twisted to satisfy without feeling cheated (I didn’t guess whodunnit). Great fun.

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