HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Today’s guest author, Stephanie Gayle, is the author of My Summer of Southern Discomfort and Idyll Threats. She’s the co-founder of the Boston reading Series, Craft on Draft. When not writing, she works at the MIT Media Lab doing “mathy things.” (That's what she calls 'em.)
Her newest, Idyll Threats (Seventh Street Books) is out September 8th. As Stephanie sets the scene: It’s summer 1997 and Thomas Lynch is a former NYPD homicide cop turned small town police chief.
Then a young woman is murdered, her body left on a golf course. Lynch met her hours before her death, but he can’t tell his detectives because it threatens to expose his biggest secret: he’s gay. So he secretly pursues leads on his own and withholds information, trying to stay one step ahead of everyone, including the killer.
But today, we’re talking about TV. And Stephanie has chosen her faves—three of which I adore, and two of which are new to me. HURRAY! How about you?
Women “Killing It” In Crime Television
Some people don’t like television. I’m not one of them. And while I would, in a Sophie’s Choice style decision, choose books over television I happily live in a world where that isn’t a choice I must make. My go to for TV enjoyment are criminal dramas: police procedurals, legal dramas, forensic investigations, or mystery novel mini-series. I watch them all.
And I’m happy to report that crime TV is getting better, in terms of story, character and cinematography. It’s also not uncommon for ladies to rule the roost. Below are some of my favorite crime TV shows that feature women in charge and have a woman writing and/or directing.
Blue Murder (2003-2009)
Available on Hulu and Netflix
This series opens with a pregnant Janine Lewis (Caroline Quentin) getting her promotion to Detective Chief Inspector. The show never pretends she doesn’t have trouble juggling four kids, an ex-husband, and leading a team of detectives to solve murders. You can feel the opposing forces in her life tugging at her, but DCI Lewis is a copper through and through. The creator, Cath Staincliffe, also wrote several of the episodes.
Available on Netflix
Sergeant Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) is a policewoman raising her dead daughter’s young son. Ms. Lancashire is flawless in her portrayal of Sarah as a matter-of-fact cop obsessed with the rapist she holds accountable for her daughter’s death. The villain, played by James Norton, gave me the shivers. Sally Wainwright earned a Best TV Episode Edgar Award for this series.
(HANK says: This series is SO great!)
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012-2014)
Available on PBS, Netflix
Based on Kerry Greenwood’s novels, this series follows the antics of Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis), a glamorous detective in 1920s Melbourne. Lighter in tone, the show features amazing costumes and plenty of hot men. Miss Fisher is an anachronism: an independent woman of means who takes lovers and doesn’t take guff. Worth watching.
Available on Hulu
Finally, decades after Cagney & Lacey, we have a series featuring two female detectives. Created and written by Sally Wainwright (of Happy Valley fame) and Diane Taylor, the series follows DC Janet Scott (Lesley Sharp) and DC Rachel Bailey (Suranne Jones) through personal and professional ups and downs. Scott is the married mother and Bailey the emotionally stunted alcoholic. The two women connect and fight in authentic ways, both on and outside their jobs.
Available on PBS, Netflix
Four women (Anna Maxwell Martin, Julie Graham, Sophie Rundle and Rachel Stirling) who worked as code breakers at Bletchley Park find life after the war restrictive and frankly, boring. In the first series, they team up to catch a serial killer in 1952 London. They use their pattern recognition, logic, and reasoning skills to outsmart the male police force and the killer. The second series finds them trying to exonerate a former colleague of murder. Great portrayal of how women valued during the war were forced to give up the freedom and recognition they enjoyed during that dark time.
(HANK agrees--one of the best ever! What terrific idea…)
Available on Netflix
The sole American entry, created by Venna Sud, follows Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) as she investigates the murder of a 16-year-old girl. Detective Linden should be up for a worst mother award. I’m a big fan of flawed characters, so this is a plus, not a minus. The series is compelling and the story keeps you guessing.
(HANK says: Morose! And it rained the WHOLE TIME. But we were hooked.)
Women are creating some of the most compulsively watchable crime TV out there. What are some of your favorite TV recommendations featuring women investigators or created/written/directed by women?
HANK: I'm sure our brilliant Charlaine will have some ideas here, right?? What's the latest, Charlaine? And what are you all watching?
And I'll give a copy of IDYLL THREATS to one lucky commenter!