Starz’ Dublin Murders series is an adaptation by Sarah Phelps (she of the controversial Agatha Christie adaptations-see our article here) of the first two Dublin Murder Squad novels by Tana French, In the Woods and The Likeness. The series follows partners DS Rob Reilly (Killian Scott) and Detective Garda (Constable) Cassie Maddox (Sarah Greene) as they solve the murder of 13-year-old ballet prodigy Katy Devlin, whose body is found in the Knocknaree woods, which happens to be the location of another crime involving children 20 years earlier. Based on episode 1, it’s clear that the viewing experience of those who have read the books will be very different from those who haven’t.

 How did we get here?

The episode starts with a wrenching scene between an emotionally wrecked man and a sad, stern woman, later shown to be Rob and Cassie, in which the man states, “Maybe it’s the killed that are the lucky ones…the ones left behind are too stupid and slow and dull. The gods don’t want them.” Cassie responds with “We won’t see each other again.” And leaves the room.  In the very next scene, a flashback to 4 months earlier, Rob and Cassie arrive at a crime scene in a convenience store. They have an easy, unhurried companionship. When Rob sees that Cassie is too short to look over the counter at the body, he brings over a stool, then holds her by her belt loop as she leans over the edge, which she allows. What the hell happened that they went from that intimate gesture to “We won’t see each other again”?  This is the crux of a Tana French story. She opens her books with a meditative epilogue, then starts back at the beginning, setting a tone for the reader, letting them know that damage will be done, and the characters within changed forever by the time the book is over.

 The Challenge For Reviewers

For those of us who are both Tana French loyalists and fans of crime dramas, this series is difficult to review. On the one hand, it would be almost impossible to put on TV the introspection that the books feature. We all know the “damaged detective” character, but French’s take on that trope is less gruff and more lyrical than other authors’, which elevates her books from genre mysteries to literature.  On the other, I’m encouraged that Sarah Phelps has done a good job of capturing the camaraderie and respect of Rob and Cassie’s partnership, in a way that will break our hearts when they split. But I worry that The Likeness, French’s second book and my favorite of the series, will get short shrift by being wedged into In The Woods’ story.

 A Strong start

But for now, I can say that the production value is excellent and the first episode is very compelling, ending with a twist for those who haven’t read the books. If I was coming at this series as a newbie, I’d be all in. The acting is fantastic, the plot is interesting, and there’s the central question of why these partners who clearly like each other and work well together end up blowing apart. I’m going to try to keep the newbie perspective as I watch the rest of the series, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

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