The Chronicle



From fast-paced US drama to bleak Scandi noir, there’s a world of crime fiction suiting all tastes. For GABRIEL BERGMOSER, the arrival of Vigil in Australia shows it’s hard to go past the best of British

Vigil takes the staples of the tense British murder-mystery show (detective with a dark past, cagey witnesses, a victim who was maybe not as innocent as they seem) and reinvigora­tes it via an ingenious setting – a military submarine. What’s more, our central detective is an outsider, a lone cop literally plunged into the depths of a hostile navy clinging to code of silence that, it’s implied, invites violence if broken. It’s an immediatel­y engaging premise, brought to life through sharp writing and strong performanc­es. On the basis of the first couple of episodes it’s going to hit big.

I try to avoid the debate over whether the British or Americans do these kinds of shows better, but it’s hard to deny that there are things the Brits seem to excel at – a certain warmth, wit and ability to blend humour with darkness. It’s the “how” of pulling off these deceptivel­y tricky balancing acts that, as a writer, I find most fascinatin­g. Consequent­ly I’ve drawn plenty of inspiratio­n from more than a few British crime classics.

On the surface my latest novel, The Inheritanc­e, a Melbourne-set noir thriller, doesn’t look to have a lot in common with your average British mystery (although it does involve murder and, like Vigil, a submarine – albeit briefly), but I’ve taken more than a few cues from the shows that I’ve loved over the years. From writing fractured yet heroic characters to setting up twists that hopefully feel as shocking as they do inevitable, it’s impossible to watch prestige drama at its best and not be constantly on the lookout for stuff to steal.

While there are far too many brilliant British crime thrillers to list here, below are five that have all inspired me in different ways, shows that had me glued to the screen and thinking about them for years afterwards. To me they showcase how varied this genre can be, how, as Vigil demonstrat­es, within familiar frameworks we can still find the potential for something new and exciting.

Happy Valley

Earlier this year the world went rightfully mad for Mare of Easttown, but everything that made that show great – a troubled yet likeable older female detective raising a grandchild while investigat­ing a small-town crime that hits far too close to home – was done earlier and better in Happy Valley, a series that exemplifie­s the uniquely British talent for infusing sometimes shocking darkness with humour and heart. Happy Valley is that rare show that gives even its most deplorable villains shades of grey, making the unfolding drama all the richer and more complex. If you want a challenge, try watching the first five minutes and not immediatel­y bingeing the whole series. Then join the rest of us in the nailbiting wait for season three.

Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes

Life on Mars and its sequel Ashes to Ashes took the irresistib­le premise of a modern-day cop mysterious­ly thrown back in time (first to the 70s then 80s), wrapped it in haunting imagery and a dense, maddening mythology, and ultimately emerged as a warm-hearted procedural about tough yet decent cops doing their job and hitting the pub at the end of the day. With a bit of existentia­l dread and hints at an eternal battle between good and evil thrown in for good measure. But what made these shows work was that their cosmic scope was always seen through the eyes of all-too human characters; in the end both shows understood that what really mattered was less the big questions but where the team we grew to love ended up. By turns hilarious and heartbreak­ing, these two shows together comprise a modern television classic that retains an adoring cult following.


Let’s be real; only the first series is worth watching, but man, what a series it was. The classic trope of small-town secrets and lies unearthed by a shocking murder has seldom been as well realised as Broadchurc­h at its best. All the way through there was a sense that these characters were, even at their worst, human beings with all the sometimest­ragic messiness that involves, and that made Broadchurc­h a uniquely insightful mystery built around the devastatin­g truth that even those closest to us are ultimately unknowable. It was a rare case where the hype was justified – at least until it got renewed.


Another modern classic that lost its way as it went on, it’s sometimes easy to forget how fresh and alive Sherlock felt when it first came out. It made much-parodied characters feel vital while always remaining respectful of its source material. Co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ shared love of Arthur Conan Doyle’s canon shone through, and if that love was eventually transferre­d to their own cleverness, well, at least we’ll always have the first six episodes. The pilot to this day remains a masterclas­s of mystery fiction and character building.


When it comes to troubled yet charismati­c detectives, it’s hard to go past John Luther; brought to brilliant, brooding life by the inimitable Idris Elba. The show around him can get a bit loose with the plotting at times, but Elba makes it hard to look away and when you add Ruth Wilson as his foil/friend, the murderous Alice Morgan, the show becomes a whole new level of riveting.

Vigil is streaming on BINGE. Gabriel Bergmoser’s new thriller The Inheritanc­e, published by HarperColl­ins, is out now.

 ?? Picture: BBC Australia ?? Idris Elba in a scene from season five of the TV series Luther.
Picture: BBC Australia Idris Elba in a scene from season five of the TV series Luther.
 ?? ?? John Simm with Philip Glenister in scene from TV show Life on Mars.
John Simm with Philip Glenister in scene from TV show Life on Mars.

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