Dublin Murders: True Detective set in Celtic Tiger Ireland

Review: A 13-year-old girl is found dead in a suburban wood, in this absorbing new drama

Sarah Greene and Killian Scott: ‘My head is f**ked from all the raped, dead kids’

Sarah Greene and Killian Scott: ‘My head is f**ked from all the raped, dead kids’

 

Ireland may have one of the lowest murder rates in the world, but violent death seems to be a numbingly regular occurrence for the detectives on Dublin Murders (BBC 1, Monday 9pm & Tuesday, 10.35pm; RTÉ One, Wednesday, 9.35pm).

After a quickly solved case, with some good cop/bad cop interrogation, the smugly efficient detectives at the centre of the BBC and Element Pictures’ adaptation of Tana French’s internationally celebrated novels are initially blasé when asked to investigate another.

“I can’t,” Sarah Greene’s excellently blunt Cassie Maddox tells her boyfriend, with a workaday shrug, “I’ve got a body”.

But even before the body turns out to be that of a 13-year-old girl, found on an ancient stone altar in the woods of a commuter town named Knocnaree, the case looks eerily complicated, as though it had blown in from True Detective. Twenty-one years earlier, three children went missing in the same woods, and only one was ever found, traumatised and soaked in blood.

That these cases may be related is on everybody’s minds. That they have particularly unsettling resonance for Detective Rob Reilly (Killian Scott, who gives his boyish, English-educated cop the air of a head prefect) and Cassie is on their lips.

“This isn’t for us,” reasons Cassie, planning to fake an excuse: “Tell them my head is f**ked from all the raped, dead kids.”

Set in 2006, in the roaring days of the Celtic Tiger, writer Sarah Phelps’s adaptation imagines a grim city made jittery with development, claustrophobic by the soaring property market and mordant with compensatory humour. When we first meet Rob and Cass, in a brief flash forward in a sepulchral evidence room, their heads really do seem f**ked; him on the edge of cracking, her spooked and transformed.

But the show introduces them as a portrait of compatible partnership: when Cassie cranes over a convenience store counter to see a victim, Rob hooks a finger through her belt hole to secure her. They likewise interrogate suspects like practised cynics, but, refreshingly, their own relationship is not much more romantic.

Dublin Murders, on the other hand, stays true to the tone of its source material by putting one foot in social realism and another in almost fairytale-dark fantasy. The woods of Knocnaree hang with mist and gothic foreboding, but the believably pokey home of the victim’s family, which director Saul Dibb films from stealthily unsettling angles, seems more ghoulish.

The family’s father, Jonathan (Peter McDonald), is a vociferous protestor against a planned motorway nearby, which already has both the tang of corruption and the expedient violation of something ancient. Even before the source of the detectives’ unease is revealed, by the episode’s end, the murder seems to distil that unease into something concrete. So does Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, as a mysterious figure stalking Cassie; both harbingers of dread, a knocking in the door in the dead of night.

Some will discount clichés of the genre – Conleth Hill’s nicely irascible, non-PC chief O’Kelly; Ned Dennehy’s needlessly creepy pathologist – but fans of both detective shows and French’s uncanny spin on the form will admire a Dublin that seems at once recognisable and alien, as though seen from shadowy corners, its details warped by greed or guilt.

Like the show, which mingles the first two books of French’s series, the city rations out its secrets almost as regularly as its bodies. Those twists grow steadily more uncanny as this absorbing series progresses, safe in the knowledge that nothing can be completely solved.

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