An eight-part series, Dublin Murders is based on two books by acclaimed American-Irish crime writer Tana French, and it retains much of the intimate tension and psychological acuity that her novels have been praised for thanks to the adaptation by British screenwriter Sarah Phelps, who has previously brought Agatha Christie and J.K. Rowling’s works to the screen.
Set in 2006, the first two episodes don’t just set up the storytelling strands; they suggest a world out of kilter, where no-one has a safe distance from their failings.
Chief among them is Rob, teased by colleagues for his English accent, but immediately apprehensive of working a case in Knocknaree, which we soon see in flashbacks to 1985, when three children rode their bikes into the woods and only one, a young boy named Adam (Michael D’Arcy) returned, shorn of an explanation and a peaceful night’s sleep. This is the most prominent of several dangling half-answers, a flashback that Killian Scott’s raw-nerve performance brings into the present day.
There are numerous angles here, including a homeless man stalking the countryside deep in guilt to Cassie being followed by a stranger and scenes that show Katy Devlin’s controlling father as a young man who also frequented the wood outside town in 1985.
The storytelling is crisp and connective, but it’s always accentuated by a disconcerting mood that feels connected to the sense that everyone is being drawn into something they can’t control.
Saul Dibb’s empathetic direction in the first two episodes always holds onto characters a beat or two longer than you expect, as if letting their circumstances sink in. It’s notable that Rob and Cassie are best friends, putting aside any romance subplot and allowing for loyalty to force them into mis-steps. Once they commit to the case, they’re subtly changed – Cassie questions Rob about his past in a way she wouldn’t have previously.
The idea that the two leads are investigating each other suits the psychological insight that underpins what in lesser hands could be a routine police mystery. When Katy’s older sister, Rosalind (Leah McNamara), comes to see Rob, she urges him to remember her sister not just as a victim, but “a person, with a life”. In Dublin Murders, that right is extended to everyone.
Dublin Murders is on SBS, Wednesday, 8.30pm.