I hate watching reruns of mystery and crime TV shows I’ve already seen—it’s not much fun to tune in when you already know who did it. And, while the networks offer plenty of summer replacements, this season, none captured my attention as much as the shows I enjoy the most.
So, while I’ve been longing for new episodes of Longmire, and imagining what fall’s Masterpiece Mystery will bring, I’ve turned to Netflix streaming video to get my fix of murder and mayhem with crime programs from across the ocean.
My digital tour of Europe’s popular mystery programing includes several satisfying entries from four countries: Broadchurch from England, Witnesses from France, Annika Bengtzon: Crime Reporter from Sweden and Dicte from Denmark.
I’d never seen or heard of any of these programs before. While each of them is very different, they have several things in common. The plots in all four series are very complicated and revolve around children—the killing, abuse, abandonment and revenge of children who deserved better. The other common factor is the excellent actors in each show. Whether a policeman, policewoman, or crime reporter, they all feel real. While they may go off on their own to check out a hunch or gather information, for the most part they don’t seem to hesitate to call for help or back up when they need it. I also found the most striking difference to be physical. These crime solvers look more like regular people than the stars we’re used to seeing on American television, even the actress who plays Annika Bengtzon and is stunning. They’re all good looking, but not perfect, which I feel makes them more like the rest of us, complete with idiosyncratic habits. It also makes each show more believable.
I started my tour in England in the fictional coastal city of Broadchurch. Broadchurch, Season One, is a BBC production that originally aired in 2013. An eight-episode series, it begins with the murder of 11-year-old Danny Latimer whose body is found on the beach, a wide sweep of sand pounded by waves and surrounded by massive cliffs. The series is set in Dorset in a very small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business. When Danny’s body is discovered and the police realize it was murder, it sets off a storm of suspicion and unwanted media attention that impacts the community. By-the-book DI Alec Hardy (David Tennant), is the lead investigator who is determined to solve the case and make up for his last case, in which a murderer went free. He’s paired with the compassionate DS Ellie Miller (Olivia Coleman), his second-in-command and the mother of an 11-year-old boy who was friends with Danny. Many of the townspeople come under suspicion and for a while, it seems like time is running out for Hardy, who is suffering from major health problems. I didn’t immediately guess who the killer was, but there is one scene that offers a clue to the murderer’s identity. Season Two is coming and I’m looking forward to watching.
Next, I crossed the channel and wound up in northern France in another wind-swept small coastal village, the setting for Witnesses (Les Témoins in French). Season One is a 6-episode police procedural drama that debuted on Belgian television in 2014. The series makes good use of the clouded skies and chalk cliffs in the area, and the atmosphere is somber and dark which fits the plot perfectly. The bodies of murder victims are being disinterred from their graves and placed in realtor show houses where they are posed to resemble a family. Suspicion falls on former Chief-of-Police, Paul Maisonneuve (Thierry Lhermitte) when a photo of his is found in one of the homes. Originally from the village, Maisonneuve, a Crime Squad legend, left the force after a near-fatal accident and is now back to help. Resilient Police Lieutenant, Sandra Winkler (Marie Domnier) a former police academy student of Maisonneuve, is assigned to the investigation. The plot is further complicated by the growing tension between Maisonneuve and Sandra. In the end, the detectives must look to Maisonneuve’s past and his abandoned first love to unearth the truth. Season Two is scheduled to air in France sometime this year.
From France, I moved north to Sweden and Annika Bengtzon: Crime Reporter, a journalist for the tabloid Kaāallspressen (The Evening News). In Season One of this excellent six-episode series based on the books by Lisa Marklund, the series begins with Annika (Malin Crépin) investigating a corpse found in a public park. Annika is strong willed and fearless and won’t take no for an answer. As she tackles this case and several others that put her in harm’s way, she spends more and more time away from home juggling her personal and professional lives, which leads to the end of her relationship with the father of her children, Richard (Thomas Sauelsson). Richard is seeking custody of their daughter and son. Annika’s reporting is filled with one dangerous case after another, including one with a young female policewoman who is accused of murdering her policeman husband and hiding their child. As the series progresses, the plots are intermixed with her struggle to hold onto her children. There is a Season Two to come.
From Sweden, I headed south to Denmark and my favorite of the bunch, Dicte, a Danish series of ten episodes from 2013. Dicte Svendsen (Iben Hjejle) is a crime reporter who moves back to her hometown of Aarhus after her divorce. She works at Dagbladet, a local newspaper and has a daughter, Rose (Emile Kruse) and an ex, Torsten (Lars Ranthe), who shows up on her doorstep all too often. Dicte is guilt-ridden over being forced to give up the son she had when she was just 16. This haunts her all through the series and informs her behavior at home and at work. Without giving too much away, this fact is interwoven into the plot. The episodes are all intriguing and the characters feel very real. So does the premise that a mother would do anything for her child. There is a Season Two that is not available yet.
If you’re looking for something new to watch this summer, give these series a look. A little foreign travel may be just what you need.
Cathi Stoler is the author of three Laurel & Helen New York Mysteries, including Telling Lies, Keeping Secrets and The Hard Way. She’s also written Nick of Time, a novella featuring International gambler Nick Donahue and won the 2014 Derringer for Best Short Story for “The Kaluki Kings of Queens.”