From the windswept moors of Yorkshire to the bucolic countryside of Oxfordshire, bodies lie scattered across Great Britain. Well, that’s how it appears if you tune into the bountiful bevy of British detective shows currently on television and the web. While famed sleuths, such as Sherlock Holmes, have made the leap from book pages to screens, as has Miss Marple and Inspector Poirot, some of the best characters can be found in contemporary stories featuring unknown detective inspectors from local police departments. The following are a mere few of the choices available.
This binge-worthy Netflix original premiered in the U.S. on November 18, offering eight episodes of taut, edge-of-your-seat mystery, murder, and conspiracy that saw the police from mythical Woodacre, England, working with a German counterpart in Dusseldorf to unravel intrigue of epic proportion. The top-notch actors include Indira Varma (Game of Thrones), Lesley Sharp (The Full Monty), Danny Huston (American Horror Story), and Kevin Doyle (Downton Abbey). (Netflix Original, 2016)
This show, which debuted in 1997, has been running just shy of 20 years, and it’s no wonder why: Despite murder being the topic, the series feels as cozy as a cup of tea and biscuits. The plots revolve around Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby (John Nettles), who, along with Detective Sergeant Gavin Troy (Daniel Casey), solves murders in the quaint, fictional county of Midsomer. Nettles is so likable as the charming DCI that the actor alone keeps viewers coming back for more. Add to that the gorgeous countryside of Oxfordshire and engaging mysteries, and you can see why it’s one of the longest-running series on television. Plus, many a now-famous actor got their start as an episodic character, including Orlando Bloom. In 2011, Nettles retired, handing over the starring role to Neil Dudgeon, who plays Tom’s cousin DCI John Barnaby. (Netflix, Acorn TV, Amazon)
Little did writer Colin Dexter know when he created Inspector Morse as the hero for his 1972 crime novel Last Bus to Woodstock that it was the beginning of not only a highly successful literary series but would also spawn three television shows: Inspector Morse (1987-2000), Inspector Lewis (2006-2015), and Endeavour (2012-). Inspector Lewis is particularly engaging. The show sees star Kevin Whatley, who played Morse’s sidekick in Inspector Morse, promoted to DCI and tackling his own cases with help from DS James Hathaway (a brilliantly brooding Laurence Fox). Episodes take place in Oxford and often have an academic bent to the murder mysteries. Inspector Lewis is a smart, cerebral series not to be missed. (PBS Masterpiece Mystery, Amazon)
Brenda Blethyn stars as Vera Stanhope in this gritty series adapted from Ann Cleeves’s crime novels of the same name. Set in the far northeast county of Northumberland, murder is the order of the day, with the somber, wild landscape reflecting Stanhope’s personality — harsh and chilly yet fascinating and sublime. BAFTA Award–winning actress Blethyn portrays the disheveled, no-nonsense Stanhope with nuance, balancing her hard exterior with a deep level of humanity for her work and her colleagues. The show premiered in 2011; its next series airs in 2017. (Acorn TV, Amazon)
For more riveting British crime shows, check out Hinterland, Scott & Bailey, Wire in the Blood, and Broadchurch.