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Fun book, well worth a place on your shelves,
This review is from: 101 Best TV Crime Series (Paperback)
pbk out November 10 (No Exit Press) at £9.99
2010: a good year, not just for the roses, but for Mark Timlin too? First, amongst the opening salvo of titles from the new MaxCrime imprint came the welcome reissue of Answers From the Grave, his best book. Retitled Guns of Brixton, it featured an ending just a smidgeon less bleak than the 2004 version. Then came Stay Another Day (2010), in which Nick Sharman returns from his Caribbean exile after a 10-year gap (apart from his historical bit part in AFtG) in response to an appeal for help from his daughter, D.I. Judith Sharman. It has its moments but not the best of the series, I'd say - go back to earlier titles like Take The A Train, The Turnaround, and don't forget the excellent short story volume Sharman and Other Filth (1996). Stay however was particularly notable for the stunning finality of its concluding chapters.
Now comes this little gem, Timlin's own personal choice of 100-odd crime series from more than 50 years of TV, plus 21 `out-takes' that didn't quite make the cut. If (like me) you are missing the pith and pungency of Timlin's published crime reviews, only rarely featured these days in his alma mater, the Independent on Sunday (anything to do with those Russians in Stay?), then look no further. My wife and I metaphorically punched the air as I read out his comment (under Life on Mars) on Ashes to Ashes, the follow-up series featuring Keeley Hawes. "I lasted ten minutes of the first episode " Timlin remarks, "and turned over to something on Channel Five."
But I'm getting ahead of myself. The book's subtitle is Bad Guys, Spies and Private Eyes. Prepare yourselves therefore for the more hard-boiled end of the TV spectrum? Not a bit of it. Sandwiched between Fabian of the Yard and Cops is Partners in Crime, ITV's series devoted to the Tommy and Tuppence stories from the sainted Agatha (all of which Timlin once confessed to seeing at least twice). There is Miss Marple too (Joan Hickson versions of course), Hamish Macbeth, Pie in the Sky, Midsomer Murders and even Hetty Wainthropp ("I bow to no one in my admiration for Patricia Routledge"),
Blowing his street credentials? Hardly. Discriminating as always, there is no sign of Rosemary and Thyme , or
. Old favourites are here, both ancient ( Dragnet, Highway Patrol ), mid-period (guess which is No.1?), and modern ( CSI in all its various manifestations, Luther (?), Law and Order , the US version). Old adversaries ( Inspector Morse, Poirot ) are not.
He's good on the cultish ( Johnny Staccato , Adam Adamant, Shoestring , not to mention the immortal Hazell ), impressive on the obscure. By which I mean of course, obscure to me. For example Murder Bag (a predecessor of No Hiding Place apparently), Midnight Caller, The Kill Point, Mark Saber, Smith, The Gold Robbers and Ultraviolet , an early entry in the vampire stakes (pun UNintended). Late night trawling of the TV schedules will do that to a man.
He can be controversial, (you don't say) preferring, for instance, the Michael Gambon Maigret to that of Rupert Davies. Whilst retaining his admiration for David Simon's Homicide: Life on the Street , he can't resist a pop at The Wire - or is it a pop at Guardian readers? But, glass of organic Pinot Grigio to hand and part-way into Series Three, I'm inclined to agree. Meanwhile, Timlin chutzpah being what it is, you won't be surprised to find Sharman , the ITV series based on his own books, in the obligatory 101 slot. (Along with Morse, I'd put it in the Top 100.)
One series omission perhaps (I know, go and write my own book) would be a representative of the subtitled crime series increasingly finding UK screentime. My pick, right up the Timlin street I would have thought, would be France's Spiral. Both series, though series 2 has the edge for me, with its script by Virginie Brac, a 2005 winner of France's top crime fiction prize, the Grand Prix de littérature policière.
Supplementary to Timlin's succint commentary (particularly good on musical connections, as you would expect) is data on series producers (though not key directors), related websites and DVD availability. Surprisingly perhaps, writing credits are just a tad scanty, thus missing, for example, the fact that Philip Martin, the author of Gangsters , a Timlin favourite, later wrote one or two scripts for Hetty Wainthropp .
But it's a fun book, well worth a place on your shelves. And just as soon as I've worked out the `hack' for my Region 2 DVD player, I'll be looking for that elusive Johnny Staccato DVD.
TW Reviewer Bob Cornwell