8 authors pick their all-time favourite TV shows
With so many top quality crime dramas on telly these days and an abundance of streaming services allowing us to ‘tune in’ long after a new series has aired, there’s so much to watch that it’s impossible to know where to start. But never fear – if you’re in need of a steer, we’ve asked the people who have seen them all: our favourite crime authors!
Here are the best crime TV shows of all time according to the likes of Tony Parsons, Heidi Perks and Rebecca Reid. How many have you seen?
Fiona Barton, author of The Suspect:
Prime Suspect was the game changer. I’d been all about Cagney and Lacey and Juliet Bravo until DCI Jane Tenison appeared on ITV in April 1991. The brilliance of this portrayal of a senior woman detective in a viciously misogynistic world was in refusing to make her a cartoonish heroine for the cause. Between them, the wonderful Lynda La Plante and Helen Mirren created a woman who was brave, vulnerable, ambitious, flawed, unlikeable, sexy and manipulative. This was drama, not soap. And a television event. The first two-hour episode went out on a Sunday evening and the second, the following night. It meant we were immersed in the brutality of the killer, the ingrained sexism of the incident room and Jane Tenison’s scrappy determination to solve the crimes. I was mesmerised – it was all I wanted to talk about at the time – and still am, thirty years later.
Rebecca Reid, author of Truth Hurts:
The last decade has seen production after production of incredible crime drama. The Fall, Big Little Lies, Luther – we’re spoiled for choice. But I maintain that the best and greatest crime show on television remains the distinctly non glossy Jonathan Creek. He’s a magician who lives in a windmill and solves crimes, sometimes with Caroline Quentin. Could you really ask for anything more? Plus there’s the added bonus that the storylines are dark, twisty and almost impossible to predict. If you’ve watched the series you’ll understand why I still can’t get in a hotel bath without panicking first.
All of the episodes, complete with Nokia mobile phones and extremely dodgy haircuts, are on Netflix. They’re the perfect way to while away a quarantine evening.
Jorn Lier Horst, author of The Cabin:
I would probably not have been the writer I am without the late Swedish writer Henning Mankell. Nor would I have been the same policeman.
My first encounter with Mankell was Faceless Killers, the first Kurt Wallander novel which was published in Norwegian in 1993. I read it during my studies at the Police Academy and thought he was the policeman I would become. An upright and good detective who led the way with major cases. Mankell and Wallander therefore inspired the role I had for many years as chief investigator for the police, and left a lasting impression on me. The BBC has made a brilliant adaptation of the series, with an exciting glance at the Scandinavian environment and the people there.
Tony Parsons, author of #Taken:
I just re-watched Widows, Lynda La Plante’s classic 80s series for ITV and as a high concept – the widows of a gang of dead villains decide to pull off their last heist themselves – Widows can’t be beat. But The Sopranos is the crime show that every other crime show has to be measured against. The British – and indeed the Scandinavians – never made a crime show that is even in the same league as The Sopranos. The Sopranos is different – wide-screen, epic, Shakespearean in its sprawl and understanding of the human heart. Unlike most crime series, it had the scent of real life about it – some things you never understand – and that is what made it so great. And of course in the late James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano, you witnessed the greatest piece of casting in the history of television.
C C Macdonald, author of Happy Ever After:
Sopranos, Breaking Bad, The Wire. All masterpieces. It might just be that I happen to be watching it at the moment, but I think Ozark stands amongst them and presents the first criminal family that I’ve ever been able to personally relate to. The pilot starts with the stakes skyscraper high and somehow, throughout all three series, the writers seem to find a way to keep raising them, forcing Marty and his razor-bright wife Wendy deeper and deeper into a moral vacuum that finds them alternately questioning who they’ve become.
The family dynamic marks Ozark out as being very different to many other organised crime stories, there’s an interesting socio-political message within the story as well – and the acting! Laura Linney is the most underrated actor living, Jason Bateman uses his nice-guy everyman persona to incredible effect and Janet McTeer’s in it. Enough said. It’s phenomenal.
Heidi Perks, author of Three Perfect Liars:
I am a super fan of crime shows, they are my complete go to whenever I am choosing a new boxset or series. One of my favourites for its stand out twists and fantastic characters has to be the brilliantly written Line of Duty.
Matthew Hall, author of The Black Art of Killing:
Truly powerful TV shows capture their particular moment in history and render it in dramatic form. I’m going to cheat and pick two stand-out classics of BBC crime thriller drama. The first is the 1978 BBC Two serial Law and Order. The story follows the framing of a petty criminal for robbery by a corrupt detective, Fred Pyle, in such exquisitely researched forensic detail that there were protests in the House of Commons and the BBC was censured by the Attorney General and persuaded to ban it from rebroadcast for 25 years. It’s now available on DVD – an object lesson in the far-reaching power of drama. This is also true of Edge of Darkness (1985), written by Troy Kennedy-Martin, who also wrote the Italian Job. This was the first environmental thriller, blowing the lid off the nuclear industry through the deeply intimate and compelling story of a widowed DI Ronnie Craven investigating the mysterious murder of his daughter. The show won six well-deserve BAFTAs and in my opinion remains the best TV drama ever made in Britain.
Jane Shemilt, author of Little Friends:
I didn’t know The Killing, the 2011 Danish crime drama starring Sophie Gabrol, would win an international BAFTA award in 2011. I had no idea it would pave the way for an influx of subtitled European crime dramas. I just knew I was riveted from week to week by extraordinary story telling. I was penning the first draft of my debut on the Bath Spa MA in Creative Writing at the time, one that would become Daughter, an international bestseller; but at precisely the right moment, The Killing showed me how a drama can combine stillness of loss within a driven narrative. As a result, I was inspired to create two time lines, for the mother’s grief and for the horror around her daughter’s abduction. Other lessons have endured: the centrality of complex characterisation and how to seed in convincing plot twists. The importance of place, with the rain soaked landscape of Copenhagen’s darkly glistening streets added to the menace. And a three-part plot structure, as in The Killing, even found its way into Little Friends. Television drama as a master class in writing!
What do you think are the best crime TV shows of all time? Let us know in the comments below!