New drama sees Karen Pirie with ‘cold case’

Sunday: Karen Pirie - (ITV, 8pm)

DS Karen Pirie
DS Karen Pirie

It’s Sunday night, Adrian Dunbar’s Ridley is over, but don’t panic – there’s another crime drama heading your way.

Val McDermid is one of the most successful and revered crime writers around at the moment, and she’s no stranger to the small screen – the early 2000s ITV drama Wire in the Blood, starring Robson Green, was based on her series of novels about clinical psychologist Tony Hill. Alongside Amelia Bullmore, she also co-created Traces, which has been a hit on both Alibi and the BBC.

Now her work is returning to ITV courtesy of Karen Pirie, a three-part adaptation of The Distant Echo, her first novel featuring DS Pirie, a young and tenacious Scottish investigator.

“I always thought this book could work well because it’s got such a dramatic opening and it’s an interesting story that takes place over a long period of time,” explains McDermid. “The way it explores the nature of guilt and innocence and what suspicion does to people’s lives over time is something that fascinates readers and viewers alike.”

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The tale begins in St Andrews in 1996 when three students are accused of murdering barmaid Rosie Young, who had been assaulted and stabbed before breathing her last. However, they’re eventually released and the crime goes unsolved for 25 years; it seems that Rosie will be forgotten – until she becomes the subject of a hit podcast, prompting the police to order a cold case review.

Pirie is put in charge of it, and she soon discovers that Rosie was harbouring long-held secrets that could hold the key to unlocking the mystery. But first she must find the trio of students to hear their side of the story.

Although McDermid is undoubtedly a skilled writer, she was never tempted to work on a screen adaptation herself: “My imagination doesn’t work in screenwriting terms. I’m so delighted that there are really talented screenwriters who can bring my work to life and give it a sheen and a gloss that I could never manage.”

Instead, the task was handed to Emer Kenny, the former EastEnders star, who also has a supporting role as Karen’s friend River Wilde.

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“Emer has done the job really well,” says McDermid. “In some respects, the author is not the best person to suggest the practicalities anyway, the nuts and bolts of getting the story on screen. I’ve already told the story in what seems to me the best way to do it, and that’s a different way for novels.”

The other crucial aspect of the production is, of course, finding the ideal person to play the lead role, and the author is sure ITV have found her in Outlander actor Lauren Lyle.

“When I first saw her on set, I thought ‘She’s got it! She’s got Karen, she understands who she is and she’s doing a fantastic job of projecting that on the screen.’ I’m really impressed with what she’s done with the character, she makes me smile.”

And following an endorsement like that, you can bet the rest of us will be thrilled too.