18 of the best radio crime dramas
While we love a thrilling page turner, are hardcore telly addicts and can often be found listening to a true crime podcast, there’s something about plugging in to a radio drama that can’t be replicated.
Audio dramas lend themselves to chilling tales, suspense-filled thrillers, character-driven mysteries and police procedurals, often inviting us directly into the minds of their compelling characters.
With so many out there it’s been hard to whittle it down, but here’s our pick of the most binge-worthy crime radio dramas to get you hooked. So grab your headphones, find a comfy seat and get stuck in to this wicked selection…
18 of the best radio crime dramas:
Shardlake: The Complete BBC Radio Collection by C J Sansom
Tudor England is the playground for C J Sansom’s historical mystery series, which follows the adventures of hunchbacked lawyer-detective Matthew Shardlake over ten years during the reign of Henry VIII. With six bloody episodes and voiced by an all-star cast including Jason Watkins, Justin Salinger and Mark Bonnar, history aficionados and novices alike will devour this addictive collection, which takes listeners from the dirty underground of Tudor London to the royal court.
Detective by Robert Barr
DS Dave Brook is a long-serving metropolitan police officer in London who teams up with youngster DC Blair Maxton to take on gruesome murders, missing persons cases and notorious crime families. Originally broadcast between 1980-85 as Detective: Stories of Crime and Detective in London, these BBC radio drama series were written by award-winning scriptwriter Robert Barr. Collecting all thirty-nine stories into one anthology for the first time, this is a gritty insight into the underbelly of London.
Inspector Resnick by John Harvey
Nottingham is the setting for writer John Harvey’s iconic police procedural, expertly adapted for BBC Radio with three full-cast dramatizations and two original radio stories compiled here. Detective Inspector Charlie Resnick is the sandwich and jazz-loving protagonist whose cases include violent robbery, assault and arson in ever-testing circumstances. With a different actor voicing Resnick in each story, this addictive collection is a brilliant showcase of one of the all-time greats.
Colvil & Soames by Christopher Lee
If spy thrillers are your thing then MI6 officers Henry Colvil and Alex Soames will be your new favourite spy duo, as they’re faced with two extremely complex murder mysteries. Exploring themes of religion and politics, these six-part stories are written by acclaimed historian, broadcaster and author Christopher Lee, writer of over one hundred radio plays. Originally broadcast in 1996 and 1998 for BBC Radio 4 and starring Christopher Benjamin and Amanda Redman, these twisty tales have stood the test of time and are well worth a listen.
P D James BBC Radio Drama Collection by P D James
A brilliant collection of selected works by P D James, including a bonus audio documentary where the acclaimed author discusses her life and career. Seven BBC Radio 4 full-cast dramatizations feature, including James’ debut novel Cover Her Face, which establishes poetry-writing detective Adam Dalgliesh, and An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, synonymous for introducing a new type of female detective – private investigator Cordelia Gray. Voiced by an exceptional cast including Hugh Grant and Anna Massey, this is the perfect celebration of a juggernaut of crime writing.
DSI Julie Fisher Investigates by Nick Fisher
Imelda Staunton brings the formidable Detective Superintendent Julie Enfield to life across eight gruesome and gruelling cases that make up the five equally compelling BBC Radio 4 series in this collection. Investigating medical murders, ritual killings and serial killers, there’s never an easy day in the job for Enfield, who holds her own pitted against London’s most evil criminals. Created by BAFTA-winning scriptwriter Nick Fisher, these often brutal and regularly spine-tingling tales are as thrilling as they are haunting.
The Unforgiven by Barbara Machin
Fans of Waking the Dead will devour this radio drama prequel to the Emmy-winning hit TV series, set fifteen years previously, which reveals how the team were first brought together. Embroiled in the legal appeal of a serial killer is DC Peter Boyd, forensic scientist Frankie Wharton, criminal profiler Grace Foley and officers Spencer Jordan and Mel Silver, as each character tells their side of the story over five days and it’s a race against time to fight for justice and make sure the right person ends up behind bars. Starring the original Waking the Dead cast and written by creator Barbara Machin, this is a real treat.
The Inspector Chen Mysteries by Qiu Xiaolong
Set in Shanghai, this fascinating collection of nine BBC Radio full-cast dramatizations of the crime novels of Qiu Xiaolong explore modern life in ever-changing communist China. Starring protagonist Inspector Chen Cao, a policeman and poet who not only catches criminals but analyses each tragedy historically, socially and culturally, this radio drama gives a fascinating insight into a rarely-seen world, with many of tropes of the very best crime writing. One not to be missed.
Keeping the Wolf Out by Philip Palmer
This chilling thriller leads us behind the Iron Curtain to Cold War-era Budapest, where special investigator Bertalan Lázár and his spying wife, Franciska Lázár, attempt to solve increasingly tough cases midst the paranoia of Communist Hungary. The sixteen episodes in the radio drama collection navigate secret police, child killers, rogue police officers and explore a political climate where pursuing justice can get you killed. A hugely timely and relevant collection, this will no doubt strike a chord with listeners.
The Martin Beck Stories by Per Wahlöö and Maj Sjöwall
Pioneering Nordic noir decades before it became mainstream, the Martin Beck stories are widely acknowledged as some of the most influential detective novels ever written. Collated here as BBC Radio 4 full-cast dramatizations, they introduce Detective Martin Beck, driven to uncover the injustice hiding beneath Sweden’s highly liberal outlook. Beck is dogged, dour, humourless and antisocial, but equally compelling and strangely empathetic, one of the original fascinatingly flawed fictional policemen. These dramatizations should be added to the playlist of every crime fan.
Red and Blue: The Complete Series 1-3 by Philip Palmer
Ex-Lieutenant Colonel Bradley Shoreham is a war game expert. From disaster management as part of the British Army, he’s now employed by governments and corporations to simulate war games for training purposes. But as his participants find out, his games can have deadly consequences… With nine BBC Radio thrillers as part of the collection, including a scenario exploring a global pandemic, the storytelling is fast-paced and action-packed. You’ll race through them.
The Interrogation: The Complete Series 1-5 by Roy Williams
If your favourite part of any police procedural is the interrogation room then this is the radio drama for you. Unlikely pairing Max Matthews and Sean Armitage are the investigating officers on the other side of the table to fifteen suspects, who each tell their stories, gradually revealing the crimes, motives and their version of events. Fascinating character studies unearthing complex moral issues, this is a compelling, claustrophobic collection that will stay with you.
The Complete George Smiley Radio Dramas by John le Carré
John le Carré’s bestselling spy novels are brought to life in this critically acclaimed radio collection of George Smiley mysteries. Eight stories are dramatized, including le Carré’s first Smiley novel, Call for the Dead, and the first book in the Karla trilogy, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Starring Sir Simon Russell Beale in the title role with supporting cast including Hugh Bonneville and Lindsay Duncan, this collection delivers everything you’d want out of a le Carré thriller and will leave you wanting more.
The Recall Man by David Napthine and Steve Chambers
Forensic psychologist and memory expert Dr Joe Aston is called into Teesside police to solve seven seemingly unsolvable cases. A specialist in ‘recovered memory’ Aston can only get to the bottom of the truth by encouraging those involved to remember things they’d rather forget… A fascinating take on the police procedural that calls into question how much memory can be trusted. An addictive listen, but be warned – it may play tricks with your mind!
November Dead List by Nick Perry
When a Catholic priest discovers a ‘Dead List’ with the names of parishioners who then start turning up dead, Detective Inspector Flood is tasked with unravelling the mystery. The second series moves to the sedate countryside of Norfolk, which supposedly has one of the lowest crime rates in the country – until DCI Greaves realises the county is harbouring a serial killer with uncanny links to the Dead List murders. This gripping BBC Radio 4 crime drama is packed with intrigue, suspense and fascinating twists. You’ll be hooked from the first episode.
Father Paolo Baldi Mysteries by Simon Brett
Priest turned crime-fighting super sleuth Father Paolo Baldi might be an unlikely amateur detective but, partnering with DI Tina Mahon, he regularly becomes involved in murder enquiries – and his gentle, reassuring nature often encourages confessions. Set in Ireland, the stories transport you around the country as Baldi solves mysteries across the emerald isle. With five series and twenty-eight episodes in this radio drama there are plenty of cosy crime capers to keep you entertained.
A Small Town Murder: The Complete Series 1-14 by Scott Cherry
As a family liaison officer Jackie Hartwell has one of the toughest jobs in CID – to support traumatised relatives in the aftermath of a serious crime. But she’s not just there to make the tea, as very often the suspect the police are searching for isn’t too far away… Meera Syal stars as hardy copper Hartwell across fourteen series of this brilliant police procedural. Collected together for the first time, each story focuses on every family’s nightmare and will keep you guessing until the very end.
The Corrupted by G F Newman
An epic saga spanning decades from 1951-1991, this thrilling collection of six series follows the fortunes of the multi-generational Oldman family as they are embroiled in a web of crime and corruption that threatens to tear them apart. Written by double-BAFTA award-winner G F Newman and based on characters from his 2009 novel Crime and Punishment, it is a powerful story of crime and ambition that mixes fact and fiction. A powerhouse of a radio drama not to be missed.
There you have it – our pick of the best radio crime dramas! Has your favourite made the list? Let us know in the comments below…