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Crime review: Irvine Welsh’s first TV series is as sharp, sardonic and grim as you’d expect

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The team at BritBox – Britain’s answer to Netflix – must have thought they’d be onto a global winner by getting Irvine Welsh, the big yin of Trainspotting, to agree to a dramatisation of his novel Crime. The production is surprisingly clichéd, as it happens, but still a highly watchable sort of detective drama, frankly because it gives the viewers what we want, and Britbox, despite having a paradise of a back catalogue, needs what we nowadays call “fresh content” to grow its subscriber base.

The success of the show is partly down to the sharp, sardonic, vernacular script, co-written by Welsh and Dean Cavanagh, but mostly because of the presence, in all senses, of Dougray Scott in the lead role of Detective Inspector Ray Lennox, a man seemingly only one wisecrack away from going postal all the way from Princes Street to Leith. He’s got a great face, too, one that looks like Welsh might have moulded himself from clay.

Crime is exactly what you’d expect, and want, from a police procedural written by Welsh and set in Edinburgh. There’s not a sporran, set of bagpipes or a twee tea room in sight, and the city is portrayed as an unrelentingly drab, dingy, depressing sort of place where the sun doesn’t even shine out of the star detective’s arse and no one’s got a degree. “Choose grim,” you might say. A couple of striking sights will remain with me for all time, I suspect – a corpse of a cat being eaten away by maggots in the flat of some old bloke who’s stopped caring about anything, and a homeless man relieving himself on the wall of the brutalist police headquarters, because the coppers have stopped caring as well.

While it’s very Welshy in its mood and its settings, Crime itself is more standard-issue TV-police-procedural-by-numbers. The crime in question is the abduction of a 13-year-old girl on her way to school. Tick. Her single mum is struggling in near poverty. Tick. Early suspects include a seedy-looking paedophile on the estate, a virtually feral (even by Welsh/Edinburgh standards) grandad, and a dodgy boyfriend. Tick, tick, tick. The CCTV is missing a vital 10-yard stretch, like it always does on the telly, and there’s little forensic evidence. There’s also the very familiar set-up of personalities in the police station: Lennox loses his old detective partner to retirement and is teamed up with a young female officer, DS Amanda Drummond (played by Joanna Vanderham), and, of course, there’s tension.

Lennox is also “battling personal demons” to deploy the cliché – when is a top cop not? – and is involved, inevitably, in a relationship undermined by his devotion to the job and an unhealthy obsession with a serial killer named The Confectioner.

In among all the bleakness, there is one comedic moment. In the opening scene, Scott’s old police partner, with a bad case of piles, lays into a villain but ends up impaled, haemorrhoids-first, on a protruding piece of elegant New Town street furniture, highly reminiscent of the “Nobby’s Piles” strip in Viz. After that moment of Chalfonts-based humour, there are no laughs to be had.

All that said, all that really matters is whether you want to know who kidnapped the angelic little Britney Hamil and placed her dead body neatly propped up on the National Monument of Scotland – and you certainly do, and you do want to know more about The Confectioner. On that basis, Crime deserves to be a great, if a tad predictable, success.

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