Cops in out­door wear, se­cre­tive lo­cals and the baf­fling French crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem – so far, so Spi­ral

★★★ ☆☆

The Guardian - G2 - - Tv And Radio - Tim Dowl­ing

Lake An­necy is France’s third-largest lake, with a medieval town up one end, a cou­ple of chateaux, a nice clean beach, and a mur­derer on the loose. That is the es­sen­tial premise of Killer By the Lake, a noirish thriller set in a pop­u­lar tourist des­ti­na­tion. The series is a se­quel to Van­ished By the Lake, which I did not see, but I gather it is the same char­ac­ters, a dif­fer­ent lake, and a dif­fer­ent ac­tor in the lead role of Lise (now Julie De Bona). Lise and Clo­vis are a mar­ried cou­ple. They are both cops: she is po­lice, he is a gen­darme. They have re­lo­cated to start over af­ter some ghastly busi­ness on the Lac de Sainte-Croix. Here in An­necy, they have a lit­tle place by the water and a ninemonth-old baby.

Lise has had to stick her 60-year-old mother in what is pos­si­bly the nicest old peo­ple’s home ever – I would go there on hol­i­day – but her mother still con­sid­ers it a prison. She wants to be back in her own home. “Your house is gone,” says Lise. “It burned down.” More spec­tres from the past. The body of a young woman – naked and beaten – turns up. Lise at­tends the crime scene. When Clo­vis finds an­other dead woman a few days later, it is as­sumed the mur­ders are con­nected, and the cou­ple end up work­ing to­gether on the case.

Hart to Hart this isn’t. Clo­vis keeps a se­cret packet of fags in his car, along with a hid­den phone with five missed mes­sages on it. Lise is still haunted by the pre­vi­ous mur­der case, de­tails of which keep emerg­ing in flashback. Although she has nearly com­pleted her manda­tory coun­selling, she’s not cop­ing with her re­turn to work as well as she keeps in­sist­ing she is. The ev­i­dence amassed so far points to a se­rial killer with a per­plex­ing mo­dus operandi: he doesn’t have sex with his vic­tims, and the in­juries have all been in­flicted post­mortem. He is also smart enough to cover his tracks care­fully.

Killer by the Lake shares a lot of fa­mil­iar el­e­ments with the ad­dic­tive French po­lice pro­ce­dural Spi­ral: at­trac­tive cops in hideous out­door wear, po­lice of­fi­cers with messy home lives who seem closer to their col­leagues than their spouses, even a gaunt and enig­matic (in this case, down­right spooky) pro­cureur driv­ing the case for­ward from be­hind. So far there isn’t any un­par­don­able cor­rup­tion be­ing cov­ered up, but I’m sure that will come.

The drama also has its hol­i­day set­ting: a beau­ti­ful lake in off sea­son, and a small year-round com­mu­nity that is clearly too close-knit for its own good. Min­utes into the first episode there come signs that trou­ble lurks just be­neath the sur­face: a feck­less bar owner who drinks beer all day; hints of af­fairs, of dis­quiet, of past mis­takes not well buried.

Ob­vi­ously, a large part of Killer By the Lake’s ap­peal stems from its for­eign­ness. Like a lot of the Eu­ro­pean dra­mas fea­tured in Chan­nel 4’s Wal­ter Presents strand, Killer By the Lake is pleas­antly be­wil­der­ing. Af­ter 64 episodes of Spi­ral, I am still no closer to un­der­stand­ing the work­ings of the French crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem; here, my ig­no­rance just picks up where it left off. It is often dif­fi­cult to tell whether cor­rect pro­ce­dure is be­ing fol­lowed or by­passed: you have to judge by the Gal­lic frowns and raised eye­brows.

I also get a brac­ing cul­tural shock ev­ery time I see two male po­lice of­fi­cers kiss each other hello next to a corpse. And I can­not help purs­ing my lips when what ap­pears to be friendly of­fice ban­ter bor­ders on work­place ha­rass­ment (“Are you slightly les­bian?” one char­ac­ter asks an­other, apro­pos of her not want­ing to sleep with him).

My French is not good enough to tell whether the dia­logue is as stilted as the sub­ti­tles some­times are, so I tend to give the script the ben­e­fit of the doubt. And there are some clever touches to ap­pre­ci­ate. One of the vic­tims was a twin; that way the ac­tor gets a much big­ger part than merely Dead Body No 2. Lise’s mother’s de­men­tia is also a use­ful de­vice: like me, she can’t re­mem­ber the names of any of the char­ac­ters, so we both keep get­ting re­minded. If you still miss Spi­ral, this will pro­vide some com­fort – and if you like this, there’s that whole first series, with that whole other lake.

Lise is haunted by her pre­vi­ous mur­der case – Hart to Hart, this isn’t

Fleece, cam­era, ac­tion … Lan­nick Gautry as Clo­vis, by Lake An­necy

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