Karen Pirie is a 2022 adaptation made by ITV, based off the novels by Val McDermid – specifically, The Distant Echo, the first in her Karen Pirie series.
At the beginning of the series, Karen Pirie (Lauren Lyle) is promoted to Detective Sergeant, and given a new posting at the Historic Cases Unit. The promotion has some clear political motivations – a podcast with a very feminist leaning message has recently highlighted the 25 year old death of a young woman, with the slant that the police might not have pursued every angle because they considered the victim at least partially to blame. Pirie has been promoted because the officers above her believe that the situation will look better, and be less easily criticized regardless of outcome, if a woman is the lead investigator – an angle that Pirie herself is less than pleased to hear about.
The cold case itself regards the death of teenage barmaid Rosie Duff in 1995, who was discovered by three drunken college students who claim that they stumbled across the body on the way home from the pub. Despite suspicion on the part of the police, they were never charged – nor was anyone else. Since then, the case has been largely forgotten – except by those most affected.
Karen Pirie certainly has a lot of things to say about social issues – women’s issues, race issues, sexuality issues, internet privacy issues, among others. Still, almost all of the characters (murderer aside, obviously) are handled with more depth than might be expected for a work with something to say about everything. I was especially a fan of Pirie’s only direct subordinate, Jason Murray (played by Chris Jenks), who when introduced seems like he is going to be a bit of a smarmy jerk, but turns out to be a dedicated cop – if a bit of a doofus.
There are many issues with the case, most of those are the sorts that are at least somewhat understandable given the circumstances – evidence has been misplaced, and there were gaps in the investigation’s methods, but at first most of these seem understandable given the 25 year gap and the death of the initial primary investigator during the course of the original investigation.
The biggest downside to this particular work is the length. The series consists of three episodes, each apparently originally airing in 2 hour blocks and now clocking in at 90 minutes each. All told, that makes this four and a half hours total. The case is admittedly somewhat complicated, but I still feel this is a bit too much time to cover a single piece. Of course, the original novel was almost 500 pages, so this might be more of an issue with the source material than with the adaptation.
That said, if you have the time to spare, (and can parse the sometimes thick-ish Scottish-ness of the cast, or turn on subtitles), I would recommend Karen Pirie to most fans of procedural detective fiction, particularly fans of cold case fictions. The interweaving of the flashbacks to the mid-90s and the modern day investigation help keep the miniseries fresh, though it does occasionally feel like it’s taking a bit too long to get where it is going.
At least as of the time of this writing, Karen Pirie is available on BritBox.