Wire in the Blood S1 E1-4 (ITV)

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I’m not entirely sure why, but I never watched Wire in the Blood when it aired on ITV between 2002 and 2008. By rights, this series – based on the crime novels written by Val McDermid centring on clinical psychologist Tony Hill – should have been right up my street, and it was certainly a ratings-winner for the channel, and yet somehow I missed it entirely. It’s not even that I tried it and didn’t like it at the time, it just seems to have completely passed me by.

Of late it’s been rerun on ITV3 allowing me to catch some episodes and give it a try at long last. While the basic concept of a criminal profiler working with the police on major serial crimes was just my sort of thing, I confess I’ve had an uneven reaction to the show after seeing the first two stories which are told in two 50-minute episodes apiece.

The first of these is “The Mermaids Singing” in which Hill, played by Robson Green, is approached by Detective Inspector Carol Jordan (Hermione Norris) to assess whether three recent deaths of men in the fictional city of Bradfield are related. Each have been grotesquely tortured using classical medieval techniques, and before long the matter is put beyond doubt when a policeman is abducted and subjected to an even more spectacularly nasty and gruesome fate.

I don’t consider myself in the least squeamish (Se7en and The Silence of the Lambs are two of my favourite films) but this opening episode pushed my tolerance close to switching off. It’s not just the nature of the crimes but how vividly they are shown on screen and how much the production seems to be enjoying itself in the process. I’m frankly amazed that the finished product only got a 15 certificate.

Away from that, the opening story (adapted by Patrick Harbinson and directed by Andrew Grieve) is all over the place with characterisations. Hill himself is so stuffed full of eccentric quirks and ticks that it’s hard to believe anyone would take him seriously, while other members of the cast have no sooner been introduced than they are acting out of character. This may be a result of the show ‘bedding in’ over its first outing or issues with the fact that it’s trying to compress down a much longer, richer original text to a TV running time. That said, the actual case and the psychological thinking behind it is undoubtedly strong, thanks presumably to the original McDermid novel on which it is based.

The second story is titled “Shadows Rising”, although it’s actually based on the novel by McDermid that gives the series as a whole its name. While there’s still a certain amount of nastiness to the proceedings, it’s much more bearable and moreover takes a definite line of disapproval rather than the revelling we got in the first outing. Adapted by Alan Whiting and directed by Nick Laughland, the story is less overtly clever but in some ways made more engrossing by being more familiar: the police find the bodies of two young girls dumped in a local quarry, while at the same time investigating threatening letters sent to local TV celebrity couple Jack and Amanda Vance (John Michie and Doon Mackichan). How the two cases tie together and who is behind it all forms the basis for what follows, and while it’s not a particularly hard case for the viewer to solve it still gives more in the way of interesting characters along the way.

Better still, there is more consistency and flow to the characters as well as the storyline, while Hill’s quirks are toned down to a more realistic level. But as much as the series is intended as a star vehicle for Robson Green, it’s Hermione Norris that I find the best character and performer with her ability to show small signs of warm indulgence to her pet psychologist one minute, and deliver realistically sneering put-downs to suspects and incompetent colleagues the next.

Certainly it’s the second story, “Shadows Rising”, that makes me think it’s worth hanging in there and going for a third as a tie breaker. “Justice Painted Blind” is the first of the series not to be based on a novel by McDermid so it gives a clearer idea where the production team are going with the TV show as a whole, and whether it’s a direction I’m inclined to follow them along. If and when I do get a chance to watch it, I’ll add an update to this post in due course.

Wire in the Blood is currently being rerun on Friday nights on ITV3; it’s also available on DVD, both individual seasons and also as a ‘completely wired’ boxset currently available for just £14 from Amazon.co.uk as of time of posting.

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