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ITV's new whodunnit Karen Pirie gives the crime drama a very modern twist

ITV's Karen Pirie, based on a series of novels written by 'Tartan Noir' crime author Val McDermid, takes an old and rather hackneyed idea and makes it totally new.

The body of a young woman murdered on a night out, a disparate pair of detectives sent to investigate… so far so cliche, you might think, when the new crime drama Karen Pirie kicks off this week. But the ITV show, based on a series of novels written by ‘Tartan Noir’ crime author Val McDermid, takes an old and rather hackneyed idea and makes it totally new.

It’s a very modern crime drama complete with podcasts, social media, affirmative action, and snowflake millennials. It also questions whether murder should ever become entertainment and takes a critical look at a society where violence against women is endemic.

“Sarah Everard disappeared while I was writing it and that was followed by several other cases of missing and murdered women,” says Emer Kenny, who adapted the books for the screen. “I felt so angry, as I know many women did.

‘I couldn’t help but make a difference in what I was writing about the women who couldn’t make it home. Because we also host a podcast on the story, it also got me thinking about them and how we depict crime on screen.

ITV's Karen Pirie, based on a series of novels written by 'Tartan Noir' crime author Val McDermid, takes an old and rather hackneyed idea and makes it totally new.

ITV’s Karen Pirie, based on a series of novels written by ‘Tartan Noir’ crime author Val McDermid, takes an old and rather hackneyed idea and makes it totally new.

The show introduces a compelling new heroine: the eccentric detective Karen, played by Outlander's Lauren Lyle.  Pictured: Lauren Lyle as DS Karen Pirie and Zach Wyatt as DS Phil Parhatka

The show introduces a compelling new heroine: the eccentric detective Karen, played by Outlander’s Lauren Lyle. Pictured: Lauren Lyle as DS Karen Pirie and Zach Wyatt as DS Phil Parhatka

“I like to write fiction because I change my opinions all the time, which is one of the reasons I put different opinions in the mouths of my characters. I don’t know how I feel about certain things like true crime podcasts, but I think if you delve into them in a sensible way, you can at least explore some of the important themes.

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The show introduces a compelling new heroine, the eccentric detective Karen, played by Outlander’s Lauren Lyle, and has wry humor that feels very authentic. Val McDermid, best known for her Tony Hill novels, adapted for television as Wire In The Blood with Robson Green, began writing the Pirie books in 2004, but the three-episode, two-hour series brings the story up to the present. with flashbacks to a cold case.

In 1996, teenage waitress Rosie Duff (Anna Russell Martin) goes missing on her way to meet friends at a party in the college town of St Andrews. Suspicion falls on the three drunken young students who find her body, but a lack of forensic evidence means no charges are filed and the case falls to dust.

Jump to the present day, and a true crime podcast begins to dig into the story while criticizing the police for not taking violence against women seriously. The local force is embarrassed to reopen the case and decides to promote the intrepid and slightly annoying Karen to lead the investigation.

Putting a woman in charge, they reason, will look good with the press that has begun to sniff around the original botched investigation.

The irony is that even though Karen is against the idea of ​​the podcast because it sensationalizes the murder, she realizes that’s why she got the job. Determined to prove herself and find out what happened that night 25 years earlier, she discovers flaws in the initial investigation and soon finds herself in conflict with the officers who led her.

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At the end of the first episode, a second body turns up, while Karen’s on-again, off-again lover, DS Phil Parhatka (Zach Wyatt), who had hoped to be asked to run the case himself, is furious at her promotion.

At the end of the first episode, a second body turns up, while Karen's on-again, off-again lover, DS Phil Parhatka (Zach Wyatt), who had hoped to be asked to run the case himself, is furious at her promotion.

At the end of the first episode, a second body turns up, while Karen’s on-again, off-again lover, DS Phil Parhatka (Zach Wyatt), who had hoped to be asked to run the case himself, is furious at her promotion.

The idea of ​​affirmative action was also personal to Emer, who has written for EastEnders but is best known as an actress after her roles in Father Brown and Angus Deayton’s comedy Pramface. “I’m sure a lot of women and young girls will relate to being underestimated by the men or older people around them.

‘You know you can do it, but they don’t think you can,’ she says. “I have had my own affirmative action experience where I was hired for a writing team because I am a woman and they realize they need a female voice.

“But at the same time I’m like, ‘I’m glad I’m here because they really need a female voice, but do I only deserve to be here because I’m a woman?’

Emer, 32, also appears as Karen’s friend River Wilde, and she and Lauren, 29, bonded over the fact that they were both young women in a man’s world.

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“A British detective is an iconic thing to play and I never thought I’d get to do that in my 20s,” says Lauren. “But when I read the scripts, they were so brilliant that I thought, ‘I could really do this.'”

Much of the show's humor comes from Karen's relationship with her DC partner Jason 'Mint' Murray (Chris Jenks), an archetypal snowflake (pictured together)

Much of the show’s humor comes from Karen’s relationship with her DC partner Jason ‘Mint’ Murray (Chris Jenks), an archetypal snowflake (pictured together)

Karen is a determined and truly underrated woman who has something thrust upon her with very little backing. But she knows deep down that she can do it.

“When I was doing my first scene for the show, where Karen listens to the podcast in the opening episode, I remember feeling the same kind of impostor syndrome as Karen,” he recalls. ‘I was so nervous. I was intimidated by all the dialogue and technical terms, but at the same time I felt he was right for the job.’

Much of the show’s humor comes from Karen’s relationship with her DC partner Jason ‘Mint’ Murray (Chris Jenks), an archetypal snowflake.

“When we got our police badges, we spent about an hour together practicing opening them so we could look cool,” laughs Lauren. “It’s the kind of thing you could imagine our characters doing.

“The writing is a lot of fun, but it’s cleverly fused into a story that’s also serious and relevant. That’s why it feels fresh, it’s not something we’ve seen before.

Karen Pirie, Sunday, 8pm, ITV

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