Shetland,the new BBC TV crime drama which started tonight, is an adaptation of the work of one of my oldest friends in crime writing, Ann Cleeves, so it was a particular pleasure to watch its transition to the small screen. When I first learned that the role of Jimmy Perez, the cop who takes centre stage, was to be played by Douglas Henshall, I was rather surprised, as he does not look anything like my idea of Jimmy, whose heritage is Spanish. But he's a very good actor, as his performances in very different roles in The Secret of Crickley Hall and Doors Open illustrate, and he makes a very likeable Jimmy.
Another interesting aspect of the adaptation is that the books began with the award-winning Raven Black, whereas the first story to be televised was the final novel of what was originally planned to be a quartet, Red Bones. For plot reasons, there have therefore had to be significant changes to the presentation of Jimmy's personal life, but I felt that, in this first episode, these worked pretty well. The story involves a murder close to an archaeological dig, which as a number of writers, including Ann, Agatha Christie and Kate Ellis have shown, is an eminently suitable setting for a murder mystery.
A great strength of the books, of course, is the location. I'm tempted to dub Ann the Queen of Rural Crime, and Shetland really is a tremendous setting. She's often urged me to visit the place to see for myself and I'd certainly like to do that one of these days. In the meantime, I thought the programme presented Shetland very attractively, and (despite the body count) this show should do wonders for the local tourist trade..
An immediate question is: how does this series compare to the ITV series of Ann's books about Vera Stanhope, the chaotic but appealing Geordie who is played by the admirable Brenda Blethyn? On the evidence of this first episode, I'm tempted to suggest that Shetland is likely to be even more successful, given that the setting is unfamiliar, fascinating and atmospheric - even more so than the North East countryside, where Vera is set. We'll see in due course, but in the meantime I look forward to watching the second and concluding episode of Red Bones..