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DVD Review: Above Suspicion – Set 1

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There are those who, because of their position in society, or through personal arrogance, believe they will always be above suspicion. These are the types of people who think they can get away with murder and usually attempt to do so. Haven’t you ever noticed how many serial killers are the ones nobody ever suspects of being able to commit horrendous crimes? Of course when it comes to those who believe their position in society allows them to do whatever they want, that’s a different story, but the results are usually the same thing; people end up dead and the police are left trying to puzzle out who was responsible.

A new police procedural from British television released on DVD by Acorn Media, appropriately called Above Suspicion deals with just these types of crimes. What is really good about this series is its focus on the nuts and bolts of police work. The hard slog and drudgery the police have go through to find their suspect. 

Like most of these shows from Britain, each series contains only two cases, but in this instance each case is three episodes long. Disc one contains the pilot, simply called “Above Suspicion” while disc two’s investigation is called “The Red Dahlia”. Both cases involve fairly gruesome murders, which display both a horrifying disregard for human life and a very deliberate brutality. In both cases you feel sorry for any police who have to work on them. Not only for what they are exposed to, but, when they do catch the person, having to even be in the same room as somebody who could do these types of things.

That’s especially true for the first episode of the series as the lead character is a pretty young officer just starting out on her career, Detective Constable (DC) Anna Travis (Kelly Reilly). Due to illness in his squad she finds herself temporarily assigned to Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Langton’s (Ciaran Hinds) murder team. On her first day working with him she’s told to meet him at a crime scene where a body of a young women has been found. Unfortunately for her the body has been on location for quite a while and is a maggot strewn mess. Throwing up at a crime scene is not the best way of impressing your new superior officer and neither is feinting during the postmortem autopsy, both of which DC Travis manages to do on her first day.

Thankfully for the young cop, her new boss is willing to cut her a very little amount of slack as he used to know her father. However, as she soon finds out, Langton drives his team almost as hard as he drives himself. The corpse they met over is only the latest in a series of women who have been killed in the same manner over the last twelve years. All of the victims were found arms tied behind their backs and strangled with their own tights. Even worse, it’s obvious from the way the tights are tied that the killer strangled them while looking into their eyes. The only difference between this most recent murder and the rest is all the previous victims had been prostitutes while this one wasn’t.

However they at least have a few fresh clues now. A closed circuit camera picked up a picture of the newest victim as she was talking with somebody inside a grey Mercedes outside a nightclub. So you see the police tracking down and talking to anybody who could have seen the car and can confirm whether or not the girl got in. Once they confirm she actually drove off in the car – they then have to try and track down the car. They also find other clues which send them off all over the place to interview potential witnesses, including sending Travis to Spain to interview an ex vice squad cop who might have some information that will help the investigation. While this trip has all the appearances of being a wild goose chase it sets them on the track that eventually leads them to the killer.

In the second case, “The Red Dahlia” we again see how it’s the nitty gritty of tracking down every single lead that eventually pays off. This time they are dealing with somebody copying a series of murders that took place in Los Angeles in the 1940s and were never solved called the Black Dahlia murders. At first there’s only one victim, but the body has been brutalized. Not only did the murderer cut the young woman in half he’s drained all of her blood and removed some of her organs. Even more appalling is the fact the postmortem reveals the victim had been tortured and some of the surgery had been done on her while she was alive. Things start to turn really ugly when the murderer starts to send first letters and then tape recordings to a reporter at a newspaper bragging about what he’s done and warning the police he’s only just getting started.

However. like all who think they are invincible and smarter than anybody else he makes mistakes. Even though they’re minor, they’re enough to set the police on a trail that eventually lead them to him. Now, the way the show has been scripted lends the program credibility, however it’s the acting, especially of the two leads, that makes this series so powerful. As the rookie detective getting her feet wet, Reilly is wonderful. After her less than auspicious first day on the job we watch as she gradually gains confidence. When she goes to interview the witness in Spain she runs into problems as he refuses to speak to her because he’s insulted they sent some “little girl” out to talk to him. The way she convinces him to talk leaves you no doubt as to her toughness and ability to think on her feet. Although, probably the thought of returning to face her boss empty handed was enough to motivate her to try nearly anything.

For as DCI Langton doesn’t have any patience with people who don’t do what their supposed to do. While we find out there are instances when his bark in worse than his bite, it still doesn’t pay to have him pissed off at you. However Hinds does a magnificent job of showing what’s behind the bark; the human who is sickened by the depravity he sees in his work and his need to bring those responsible to justice. Travis finds that out to her chagrin that pissing him off is still not a great idea when she has a brief fling with the reporter who had received the messages from the killer in “The Red Dahlia”. While she’s asleep he gets up to get a drink and comes across her notes on the case and proceeds to read and copy them. The first she finds out about it is when Langton shows up at her door the next day brandishing the morning’s newspaper containing a lead article filled with information the police hadn’t released to the press. She only narrowly avoids being suspended from the investigation because she’s able to convince a potential witness to talk over the phone when nobody else is able to get her to open up.

It’s interesting to watch how the dynamic between the two characters changes over the course of the two cases. At first Langton treats her in as close to a fatherly manner as would be possible for him. However, gradually you can see that changing as he brings her more and more into his inner circle of trusted officers. Not only does he start recognizing her value as an officer, but he starts seeing her as something other than the daughter of a late colleague. The more Travis starts to get know Langton, and begins to realize what fuels his impatience, the more she begins to appreciate him as both an officer she can learn from and as a human being. It will be very interesting to see how this relationship is developed in future episodes of the series.(Of which one has already been televised in England and another is being filmed so hopefully we will be seeing them on DVD within a year or so)

Special features on the disc include an interview with Linda La Plante who both wrote the books the show was based on and the screenplays for the show. As she’s also the person who created Prime Suspect, the TV show that first brought Helen Mirren to wide public attention, she is able to offer insights into the making of the show that only a person with a lot of experience in the world of television can proffer. There’s also an interesting, if rather morbid, bit about how they made the dummies for the corpses in “Red Dahlia”. Finally there are interviews with both the cast regulars and some of the special guests who appear in the series, which provide some interesting tidbits of information about the process of making the show.

Above Suspicion: Series 1 is not your typical police procedural. First of all the crimes they deal with are particularly gruesome. (If you have a sensitive stomach or are at all squeamish do not do what I did and make the mistake of watching either episode while eating – maggots don’t improve your appetite.) However there is nothing gratuitous about anything they show. It’s necessary for us to see what DC Travis experiences in order for us to fully appreciate how she’s feeling during the investigation and to understand what it is that drives Langton so hard. It’s dark, gritty and not very pleasant at times, but it’s also probably one of the best acted and produced/directed police procedurals I’ve ever seen. You may have to avert your eyes at times, but you won’t want to miss watching this and any future episodes that come to disc.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.