Aren’t we all sick to the teeth of British crime thrillers by now? The major broadcasters – BBC, ITV, Channels 4 and 5, they’re all to blame – have whittled down the genre to a slick, revoltingly homogenous formula. Just switch out a few proper nouns, spin a wheel to decide who the killer is, and roll film. The Suspect, ITV’s latest five-episode mystery drama, is made in exactly this mould – if you’d told me I was watching Vigil, or Trigger Point, I’d have believed you. But does that make it bad? Not necessarily.
At the centre of The Suspect is Aidan Turner, playing Joe O’Loughlin, an eminent clinical psychologist whom we meet as he talks a young brain tumour patient down from a ledge. In an instant, he becomes the “rooftop hero doctor” to the world. Privately, however, he’s struggling with a recent diagnosis of early-onset Parkinson’s disease. Joe is drafted in by the police to offer some criminal profiling after a young woman’s body is discovered, having been stabbed 21 times. But before long, as coincidences and revelations start racking up, the detectives’ attention turns to Joe himself.
There is much about The Suspect that simply beggars belief. After the first half-hour or so, Joe starts behaving like the shiftiest man who ever lived – frolicking next to crime scenes, withholding information from the police and sneaking into a morgue like a decorated cat burglar. Red flags stick out of him like a flamboyant human porcupine. Parts of the plot are laughably contrived: you can just about forgive a random clinical psychologist being consulted by police ad hoc on a murder investigation (though surely they would have their own rigidly vetted specialists?) – but why would they take him to see the cadaver? The dialogue is far too flimsy to effectively gloss over anything; plot holes fall out the characters’ mouths with a clang.
Despite all this, Turner is rather good here. “Rakish but enigmatic doctor” falls comfortably within the Poldark star’s capabilities, and his easygoing charm is crucial in making you think that this guy couldn’t possibly be a killer, even when all evidence points to the contrary. Good, too, are some of the supporting cast, most notably Shaun Parkes and Anjli Mohandra as the detective duo on the hunt for the killer. There’s something fun and propulsive about the story’s little twists and turns, the preposterous artifice of it all; even if you can feel the wheels starting to come off early, the turbulence makes the journey all the more giddily enjoyable.
Souring all the silliness is the subject matter itself, which veers into some genuinely dark territory: self-harm; murder; degenerative illness. The Suspect doesn’t attempt to treat these topics with any nuance, but that’s probably a good thing. This is, after all, completely frivolous entertainment. It is the froth that’s been scraped from the surface of other, better crime dramas. God help me, though – it’s suckered me in.