It's enough to make a Sherlock fan weep. After a hiatus of only six months (it’ll probably be that many years until we see the deerstalker again), Vera is back on ITV.
On Sunday actress Brenda Blethyn donned DCI Vera Stanhope’s cardie and boots to investigate the murder of an older woman on a train.
I’ve been looking forward to this episode for months. As a recent blow-in to the North East, I feel an exaggerated loyalty to anything set here. I’m also working on Crime Story, a ‘how to’ forensics festival for crime writers based around a murder commissioned from Ann Cleeves - the author behind the book behind the TV show. So I’m eager to see how Cleeves deals with the scientific side of violent death.
Well, ‘death’. It all tends to be fairly muted on Vera. No muss, no fuss and there’s no situation that can’t be defused with a reproving look from the redoubtable lead. It’s not that horrible things don’t happen - the two eruptions of violence we see are rendered all the more jarring by the relative tranquility around them - it just usually makes an effort to be discreet.
In Harbour Street, written by Paul Rutman and directed by Thaddeus O’Sullivan, the victim - Margaret Krukowski, played with careful reserve by Annabel Leventon - expires quietly on a train without causing a scene.
It’s only when a little girl - Vera’s sidekick DS Joe Ashworth’s (David Leon’s) daughter - tries to let her know she needed to disembark that anyone realised she was dead. Of course, it turns out there was a great deal people didn’t know about Margaret, who had packed a lot into a life lived in the failing seaside community of Mardle.
Under Vera’s implacably genial persistence, the threads of Margaret’s life are picked apart and put back together again. Her murder was only the tip of the iceberg, but which secret inspired someone to kill?
Was it he volunteer worker at a local shelter, her brittle, ex-musician landlady or the lovelorn fisherman with an unexpected connection to Vera’s childhood? All of them? None?
Vera is helped, as always, by her team - including Northumbria University graduate Riley Jones as DC Mark Edwards.
One familiar face that has gone missing, however, is pathologist Billy Ritter (Paul Cartwright). He’s replaced by Dr Marcus Summer (Kingsley Ben-Adir) who trots out most of the forensic detail on the show.
Worryingly upbeat for a pathologist (TV pathologists are almost always someone you wouldn’t actually trust with access to your corpse), Ben-Adir sounds convincing as he talks about “subcutaneous fat” and a “massive coronary”. Ann Cleeves has a reputation for getting the forensics right, and from what I could tell she did here.
Harbour Street keeps the audience guessing until the last 10 minutes, thanks to liberal use (and a little abuse) of red herrings and false leads.
It isn’t high octane drama - the investigation spooled out between long, atmospheric shots of the countryside - but that’s OK. It’s the methodology of it all that appeals: DS Joe Ashworth struggling to balance his family and job, the paperwork and the oddly satisfying spectacle of Vera rebuking a gormless young police officer in Blethyn’s unmistakable breathily sweet voice (it must be like getting raked over the coals by Betty Boop).
Vera is a solid, well-told show with an agreeable cast of characters. Like that uncle you only see at funerals, you’re happy to see them even over the corpse.
The next episode of Vera is Protection on ITV on May 4.
If you have any questions for Ann Cleeves, Crime Story is on May 31 to June 1. Visit www.crimestory.co.uk