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Shetland (season 4)

Why all those bleak cop dramas? The Scandi noir boom shows no signs of fizzling out – the Swedish Before We Die is halfway through its run on Channel 4, for example. That flow has been conjoined by some interestingly underlit tributary Gaelic/Celtic noir productions (including the Welsh serials Hidden and Bang), and last night saw the return for a fourth series of Shetland, which I suppose we should dub “Sheltie noir”. What next? Blackpool noir? Norwich noir?

DI Jimmy Perez is back, played with a natural-looking ease by Douglas Henshall, who has been an underestimated talent for too long, though his day in the sun (well, drizzle) seems to have arrived.

He is faced with trying to solve two murders, possibly intertwined – well, very likely, obviously. The first is a quarter of a century old, a young girl strangled with a scarf, apparently motiveless. A seemingly closed case, it is thrown open by the declaration of a mistrial. There are allegations of withholding of evidence to the legal defence team by ether lazy or malfeasant police (a topical line, there). The released convict, Thomas Malone (Stephen Walters), is a mess of facial hair, resentments, tattoos and special-strength lager. He has a voice so earthy you could grow Shetland Black potatoes in it, appropriately enough. He looks and sounds like a killer, which, traditionally, is the best reason for thinking he may not be.

But, while he might not be guilty of the first murder, is he also (or instead) guilty of a second, contemporary one – of the teenage daughter of the copper (Sean McGinley) who helped bang him up? She, by the way, was also strangled with a scarf. Was it Malone acting in revenge?  Or was it someone framing him? Or a copycat? Or did a third party kill both girls?

Based on characters created by Ann Cleeves (also responsible for the more homely Vera), this is all good, intelligent stuff, extremely engaging even for those of us grown jaded by the detective noir genre. When DI Perez quotes a beautiful line of WB Yeats, we believe in it (“Now that my ladder’s gone/I must lie down where all my ladders start/In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart”), just as we do when the vigilantes come to try and bury Malone alive. It works well.

Sean O‘Grady (Independant)

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