Desert Island DVDs: Douglas Skelton

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Douglas Skelton is a former journalist. He has written eleven acclaimed true crime and Scottish history books before making a splash on the Tartan crime fiction scene with his dark novel Blood City. Years spent researching Glasgow’s criminal underworld for newspapers and his non- fiction books have ensured his novels are packed with authentic details. His fourth novel, Open Wounds, was nominated for the 2016 McIlvanney Scottish Crime Book of the Year Award. His most recent novel is Tag You’re Dead.

Ahead of his appearance at Bloody Scotland Douglas Skelton chatted about the five DVDs he’d take with him if he was stuck on a desert island.

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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Spain, 1966)

‘I’m a huge fan of westerns and, although not overly enamoured by the so–called spaghetti western genre (apart from the music), I am very fond of the Sergio Leone films. This one carries all the trademarks of his later work – big, loud, bags of style and sly humour. And, of course, there’s Morricone’s score.’

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The Guard (Ireland 2012)

‘Proudly and defiantly profane, John Michael McDonough’s blackly humorous thriller is a sheer delight. Very much in the vein of his brother Martin’s classic ‘In Bruges’ – and sharing a star in the always wonderful Brendan Gleeson – this is pitch perfect and stands up to multiple viewings.’

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The Three Musketeers/The Four Musketeers (Spain, 1973/74)

‘No, not cheating here – these were originally supposed to be one long epic but the producers released the footage in two parts, much to the annoyance of the cast who were paid for only one film. Director Richard Lester and screenwriter George MacDonald Fraser tapped into the humour of the novel, attracted an international roster of stars and mounted a sumptuous production. Funny to think the producers originally planned it as a vehicle for The Beatles.’

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ZULU (South Africa, 1963)

‘Good old British grit was served up in this classic adventure along with a fine cast of well–known faces (Stanley Baker, Jack Hawkins, James Booth, the marvellous Nigel Green and, of course, Michael Caine), stunning location shoots, exciting battle scenes and a thunderous score from John Barry. ‘

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The Ipcress File (UK, 1965)

Michael Caine (again), Nigel Green (again) and composer John Barry (again), this time competing against director Sydney J. Furie’s camera angles in a stylish adaptation of Len Deighton’s book. The agent is given a name – Harry Palmer – and a pair of glasses and an icon is born. Nicely chilly and downbeat. And let me mention Barry’s work again – twangy, evocative and so sixties.’

Bloody Scotland booking information.

Douglas Skelton is published by Contraband

Desert Island DVDs: Kristján Atli

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Kristján Atli has been writing all his life and recently released his debut novel Nýja Breiðholt (New Reykjavik), a post-apocalyptic thriller about the hunt for a serial killer, a father’s determination to save his kidnapped daughter, a mysterious woman’s search for revenge and the potential for an all-out gang war in a city without law and order. A student of comparative literature at the Icelandic University, Kristján has also released short stories and poems and is the founder and main editor of one of Iceland’s biggest independent sports websites. He lives in the town of Hafnarfjordur with his family and sells fish during the day.

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The Hunt (2012, Denmark)

‘A stunning exploration of a society lit up by rumours, innuendo and accusation. Nothing is ever proven and we as viewers are never given the truth of the situation, making the story all the more powerful. Are we cheering for a villain or damning a victim? This is a film that sat with me for a very, very long time. It also features a symbolic performance by Mads Mikkelsen, one of the most nuanced roles of his career.’

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Life in a Fishbowl (2014, Iceland)

‘This might be the best film ever made in Iceland. It weaves together tales of three people who are down on their luck in the small community of Reykjavík, Iceland, and explores how society treats those who depend upon it for survival. If you asked me to show you one film that best explains how it is to be a person, for better and for worse, in Iceland in the 21st century I would show you this one.’

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Luther (2010 – , UK)

‘By far my favourite detective series of all time. Oh, Luther, how I love thee! I’ve been an Idris Elba fan since The Wire (who hasn’t?) and when I found these series I was all over them like a pig in … well, mud. I especially think the first three seasons are great, the fourth one was a little short but it still felt great to see more of the character. Luther is an all time great TV cop for me.’

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In Bruges (2008, UK, USA)

‘Just a fantastic film with fantastic performances. One of those I can watch over and over again, and often do while I’m writing late at night with the lights turned off. A good film is better than candlelight to write by, anyway. The titular city comes alive in this tale of crime, betrayal and friendship, among other things. Also, it’s really funny.’

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The Spanish Apartment (2002, Spain)

‘A multinational cast comes together in this tale of a Frenchman’s year in Barcelona. I remember picking this up at a videostore thinking it would be a nice romantic tale for me and my (then) girlfriend (now wife). Instead we got a full on exploration of language, culture and an immersion into the city of Barcelona. This film has stayed with me throughout the years as a symbol of how you can make a city become a central character in your story.’

Thanks to Kristján Atli and Iceland Noir.

You can follow Kristján Atli on Twitter:

@kristjanatli

Desert Island DVDs: Sólveig Pálsdóttir

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Sólveig Pálsdóttir started writing only five years ago and she has experienced considerable success and acclaim in a relatively short space of time.  

She has an unusually diverse background. Sólveig is a trained actor and has performed in theatre, television and radio. She has a Bachelor‘s degree in literature from The University of Iceland and a degree in teaching. Sólveig taught Icelandic, drama and public speaking for many years and has produced many radio programmes and managed cultural events.

Her first novel Leikarinn (The Actor) was published in 2012 to rave reviews and  spent several weeks at the top of the best-sellers lists. It is now being developed into a motion picture. The second novel, Hinir Réttlátu (The Righteous Ones), was published the year after, and also became a best-seller. Both novels have now been published in Germany by publishing house Aufbau under their German titles Eiskaltes Gift and Tote Wale. Her third novel, Flekklaus (Spotless) was published in March 2015. She is currently working on her fourth.

Sólveig is married with three children and two grandchildren.

Choosing my 5 desert island DVDs was a difficult task. I enjoy watching good films and TV shows and there have been so many that have left their mark on me. It’s been especially fun watching the evolution of TV content that’s been taking place in the past few years, with new platforms like Netflix and Hulu encouraging better storytelling and attracting top quality performers to the format. But that means making this list is so much harder!”

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The Hunt (Denmark, 2012)

This cautionary tale is a powerful film with a strong message about rumours, mass hysteria and the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” A teacher in a small town in Denmark is accused of a terrible crime. Did he do it? Mads Mikkelsen keeps the audience guessing throughout. The film is a great reminder to stop and examine matters thoroughly before passing judgement, especially in this age of social media where it’s become disturbingly easy to point the finger in rage at any perceived slight.”

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Virgin Mountain (Iceland, 2015)

A film by Icelandic film director Dagur Kári. I’m also a huge fan of his first film, Noi the Albino, but Virgin Mountain, or Fúsi in Icelandic, really touched me. It’s so human, both in its writing and performances. The main character, Fúsi, is a bachelor that still lives with his mother. His life is turned around when he enrols in a line-dancing class and gets to know the little girl that’s just moved in downstairs. Fúsi realises that there might be more to life than his WWII models. Gunnar Jónsson who plays Fúsi manages to make the character, who in less capable hands might come off as slightly creepy, completely sympathetic and as Fúsi starts to find his purpose in life you can’t help but cheer for him.”

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The Shift Trilogy (Iceland, 2007-2009)

The Night Shift, The Day Shift and The Prison Shift are the three seasons of the best Icelandic sitcom in years, in my opinion. Each season takes place in a new location, a gas station, a hotel and a prison, but the characters stay the same. Former mayor of Reykjavík, Jón Gnarr’s character might have been the star of the show but it’s his sidekick Ólafur Ragnar, played by comedian Pétur Jóhann Sigfússon that is my favourite. The writing perfectly captures the realities of modern Iceland as well as its character’s unbreakable spirit in the face of, well, common sense.”

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Room (Canada, Ireland, UK, 2015)

I have to admit that when I first heard the subject matter of Room (not to be confused with The Room, called the worst film in history) I wasn’t very excited. A young girl is kidnapped and held captive in a room for years were she endures unspeakable horrors and gives birth to a son. Sounds too bleak for me. That’s why it was such a pleasant surprise to discover that the film is actually an uplifting exploration of hope, love and courage. Anchored by incredible performances from Oscar winner Brie Larson and wunderkind Jacob Tremblay the film is one of the most affecting I have seen in recent years.”

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Happy Valley (UK, 2014)

It’s always refreshing to see a strong, capable woman over 40 in a lead role and Sarah Lancashire is phenomenal as police sergeant Catherine Caewood who is dealing with a tough job while trying to survive a personal tragedy. It’s a fascinating character, and feels like a real, flawed human being. The plotting is also tight and exhilarating and every twist will leave you gasping in disbelief. Fantastic crime show with a superb lead.”

Thanks to Sólveig Pálsdóttir and Iceland Noir.

Iceland Noir booking information.

Desert Island DVDs: Caro Ramsay

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Govan-born Caro Ramsay has written seven dark and gruesome books in the Anderson and Costello series. A trained osteopath, she runs a large practice in the west of Scotland treating humans and animals.

Caro started writing her first novel while recovering from a back injury. Shortlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger and longlisted for the Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year, her books have been widely praised.

She lives in the west of Scotland and shares her house with a staffie, a cat, and a poltergeist called Agnes.

‘It’s not an easy thing to choose only five of the DVDs that you can watch over and over again. I started off with a short list of three and then cut it down to ten – imagine leaving out Lars and the Girl, Perfect Sense and The Hitchhiker’s Guide…). I may also have changed the question. Maybe not the ones I watch most often but those that have stayed with me, those I pay attention to, or those I think, ‘I wish I’d thought of that!’’

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Wallander – “One Step Behind” (Sweden, 2005)

‘First up has to be Wallander. Henning Mankell is my dogwalking audio companion. The ‘Wallander’ I would pick is Krister Henriksson, my favourite episode would be “One Step Behind”. It’s beautifully filmed with the teenagers in eighteenth century fancy dress sitting on midsummer’s evening. Then they get shot. Dead. There is everything in this film but at its very basic level, it’s a pure detective story.’

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Gosford Park (UK, 2001)

‘Gosford Park! What can you say? I see it is a pure homage to Agatha Christie. It’s the shooting party, it’s 1930 and there is a dead body in the library. The cast list reads like a who’s who of the British film industry (plot spoiler – and as a Scot I said at the very start that’s the very worst Scottish accent I have ever heard). he screen play was written by Julian Fellowes who then went on to write Downtown Abbey. I love the caustic wit of the film.’

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Aimee and Jaguar (Germany, 1999)

‘This was released in the UK in 2001 set in Berlin 1943/44 with the wife of a Nazi officer falling in love with a courageous Jewish woman. The whole atmosphere is one of friendship and love trying to achieve some semblance of order and of everyday life when the world seems to be going mad around them. It’s based on the real life story of Lilly Wust and was a book before it was adapted as a film. It manages to be uplifting and totally depressing at the same time.’

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The Singing Ringing Tree (East Germany, 1957)

‘The famous children’s film made in East Germany in 1957. It was shown as a TV series here and is one of the most frightening things I have ever seen. (Indeed in a Radio Times readers’ poll it was voted the twentieth most frightening programme ever …and it was made for children.) I think all crime writers like the idea of the troll under the bridge that can leap out and kill you at any moment and the idea that the bear might have a truly beautiful personality underneath (if he then morphs into a handsome prince so much the better). It is worth watching with adult eyes and just wondering how robust the psychology of East German youth was at that time. It’s all very grim – very Brothers Grimm.’

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The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (UK, France, 1989)

‘And I’ve kept my favourite until last.

This is my favourite Peter Greenaway film. It has food, sex, murder, torture, cannibalism, but at the end of the day the meat loving, book hating, violent gangster gets his comeuppance by the quiet reader who sits in the corner. It is a beautiful film to watch and as a lifelong vegetarian it questions a lot of our attitudes. Peter Greenaway said ‘If you want to tell stories be a writer, not a filmmaker’ and he describes critics as ‘like haughty barren spinsters lodged in a maternity ward.’’

Iceland Noir booking information.

Caro Ramsay is published by Severn House Publishers

Desert Island DVDs: Thomas Enger

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Norwegian crime writer Thomas Enger is a former journalist. Rights to his debut novel, Burned, sold to 26 countries including the UK and USA. The sequel, Pierced, was shortlisted for the Riverton Award, a prize given out to the nation’s best crime fiction. Compared to Stieg Larsson, his dark and gritty series will continue in 2017 with the publication of Cursed.

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Heat (USA, 1995)

‘This is probably the one movie I have watched the most times since its release in 1995. It has a wonderfully structured plot and a brilliant cast. What more can you wish for? Great music, perhaps. It has that as well.’

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Glengarry Glen Ross (USA, 1992)

‘I may have lied a little bit about the «watched the most times» thing in reference to Heat. The last 45 minutes of Glengarry GlenRoss probably holds the number one spot. This movie is originally a play written by David Mamet, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984. The dialogue in this novel is music, it’s poetry, and when you have a cast that includes the likes of Al Pacino, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey and the legendary Jack Lemmon – to name but a few – you are in for a treat. The scene with Alec Baldwin in the beginning is also a classic.’

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Shawshank Redemption (USA, 1994)

‘Originally a short story by the one and only Stephen King, this movie is incredibly beautiful. I could listen to Morgan Freeman’s voice over all day. Thomas Newman’s score is also magnificent. Another one of the movies I have watched over and over again.’

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10th Kingdom (USA, 2000)

‘This pick might come as a surprise, but one summer a few years ago we went to the local supermarket and looked for a DVD to watch as the weather was really bad, and we just picked this DVD series mainly because it lasts for seven hours or something (so we could fill the rainy days…) Much to our surprise it was highly entertaining. It depicts the adventures of a young woman and her goofy father after they are transported from New York City through a magical mirror into a parallel world of fairytales. While it’s not normally my kind of genre (I only watch it with my kids), it’s easy to tell that people had a lot of fun while making this.’

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The Newsroom (HBO, 2012-14)

‘As a former journalist not having missed the profession much after I quit, this series made me yearn back a little bit to the news desk when stories are breaking. It’s written by Aaron Sorkin and has that Sorkinesque super sharp ping-pong dialogue throughout. Highly entertaining. Too bad it wasn’t renewed for more than three seasons.’

Iceland Noir booking information.

Thomas Enger is published by Orenda.

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Desert Island DVDs: Jónína Leósdóttir

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Novelist, playwright, and journalist Jónína Leósdóttir started her career writing for a weekly newspaper. She later became editor of the weekly newspaper Pressan and assistant editor of a women’s magazine. Her first novel was published in 1993. Recipient of several awards including the national poetry award, she has been writing full-time since 2006. Published in Iceland and Germany, Jónína has written fifteen books.

Making history as the first same-sex spouse of a head of state, in 2013 she wrote a book about their relationship. Interviewed by Women’s Hour and The Telegraph she spoke about challenges they faced and inspiring others to embrace their sexuality.

Her debut crime novel, Shudder, introduced readers to Edda, an Icelandic Miss Marple. Recently retired and returning from a trip to the Canary Islands, Edda receives a letter from the son of a German penpal asking for assistance locating his mother. A sequel, The Girl Nobody Missed, will be published later this year. Jónína will read extracts from the Edda novels during the Iceland Noir walking tour of Reykjavik.

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‘I very rarely watch films or TV-series more than once. No matter how much I enjoy the material, the next time I always look for something new. Therefore, I would have a hard time on a desert island with only five things to watch, over and over again, and would need to choose extremely carefully.’

‘Although The Sound of Music was released in 1965, it wasn’t shown in Iceland until 1968. At that time I was 14 years old and addicted to anything romantic, so that film really hit the spot. I couldn’t get enough of it and saw it several times at the cinema in a matter of a few weeks. It is still the film I have seen most often.’

‘Many years later, someone summed me up as a person who had never returned to ground after seeing The Sound of Music. In other words, that I was a romantic fool and unrealistic in believing that in the end, good would always conquer evil. So, stranded on a desert island, I think that would be a good film to watch regularly.’

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‘To make me laugh, I would probably pick the classic Fawlty Towers (a complete set, of course), Educating Rita or The Calendar Girls. This is the hardest category to fill, as jokes tend to stop being funny when you have heard them before. Therefore, the comedy would have to have a bit of depth, too.’

‘I have never laughed so much or so loud, as I did when I saw The Calendar Girls. My mother and my wife, who were with me at the cinema, shrank in their seats with embarrassment. But I would probably end up picking Educating Rita, as I find the story so endearing and both Julie Walters and Michael Caine are perfectly cast. Actually, I saw them in the play in the West End, before the film was made.’

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‘If there is such a thing as a box-set of all Mike Leigh films, I would not hesitate to take that with me to a desert island. (Yes, I know that is a bit greedy.) I think I have seen all his films and I find them absolutely wonderful. What an amazing director … the actors all seem to be totally unaware of the camera and the dialogue comes across as incredibly effortless and realistic.’

‘My top favourites are Secrets & Lies and Vera Drake, and Abigail’s Party is extremely amusing.’

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‘For Drama with a capital D, I would definitely choose Priest – not the more recent film with that title, but the one written by Jimmy McGovern from 1994. It is about a young Catholic priest struggling with his sexuality and an older priest, played by Tom Wilkinson, who has little problem with his conscience about his affair with the housekeeper. I simply love this film.’ 

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‘Finally, something criminal and thrilling is a must. But that would be a struggle, too, as I would be torn between two series: The Bridge (Danish/Swedish) or River (UK). Both series gave me such pleasure. The main characters are so flawed and lovable, the actors are fantastic and the cinematography amazing.’

‘When The Bridge series were on, I watched each episode on Danish TV on Sunday evenings and then again on Icelandic TV on Mondays, because I didn’t quite catch all the dialogue in Danish/Swedish.’

Thanks to Jónína Leósdóttir and Iceland Noir.

Iceland Noir booking information.

Desert Island DVDs: Annamaria Alfieri

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Annamaria Alfieri is the author of three historical mysteries set in South America. Her current series takes place in British East Africa, now Kenya, beginning in 1911. The Richmond (Virginia) Times-Dispatch described her Strange Gods as having “the flair of Isak Dinesen and Beryl Markham, the cunning of Agatha Christie and Elspeth Huxley and the moral sensibility of our times.” The second in this series, The Idol of Mombasa is just out. Alfieri is also, along with Michael Stanley, the editor of the new mystery/thriller anthology Sunshine Noir, which Peter James called “a gem of an anthology—a whole new movement,” in crime fiction.

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‘My passion is historical fiction. The mysteries I write take place in times past and often in remote places. So it is no surprise to me that I am drawn to the same kinds of stories when it comes to movies and television. Hence, my pick for the best of the best, when it comes to TV series, is Foyle’s War. For me it has everything. Nothing tops it.’

‘The series takes place in Hastings, on the English coast beginning in 1940, just as World War II is getting underway in earnest. The main characters are a trio led by DCS Christopher Foyle, an experienced detective, a WWI veteran, who wants nothing more than to have a serious job with the government in fighting the war. But his superiors insist that he is more valuable solving crimes, and aren’t we glad of that. His sidekicks in this effort are Samantha Stewart, a driver seconded to him from the women’s military corps and a partner who is a clear thinking policeman daunted by the fact that he lost a leg in Britain’s first military disaster of the war, in Norway.’

‘The creator and writer—Anthony Horowitz—gives us carefully drawn characters and twisty, surpassingly engaging plots. But he never gets overly precious with the surprises. Just enough to keep us guessing. Like all good historical fiction, these great stories are wrapped around legendary events—such as the evacuation of Dunkirk. Each episode focuses on a different aspect of life on the English home front during wartime. Oh, the events we expect to see are all there—the Blitz, the food shortages, the evacuation of children. But the show is much more than that. There is just enough hope and glory for us to admire the brave lads in their Spitfires fighting fascism. But we also get an unblinking look at home-front hanky panky of everyday Brits, attacking innocent German and Italian immigrants, looting bombed out factories, stealing priceless works of art as they are being moved from threatened London into safe keeping in Wales. There is just enough romance in the stories to give us a bit of relief from wartime tragedy. The underlying social issues cross the gap of decades—generational antagonisms, sexual politics, class warfare. And like all good historical fiction, the stories reflect what’s on our minds today, politically and socially.’

‘The art direction is superb. The period set decoration is perfection, and the episodes are worth watching for the scenery alone—like the vintage cars and especially the buses, the half-timber houses, the thatched cottages. Great direction, camera work, Foyle’s War has it all. Each episode, on its own, reads like a good film.’

‘The tales are character driven and the acting is superb. Led by the incomparable Michael Kitchen, who can say more with a close-up of the look in his eye or the slightest twist of his mouth than most television actors can say with twelve lines a dialog. His co-stars are up to the mark: Anthony Howell, as Foyle’s sergeant –Paul Milner, Honeysuckle Weeks, as Samantha Steward—Foyle’s driver, and Julian Ovenden as Andrew, Foyle’s son. All perfectly cast and unforgettable in their roles. (I confess that when Ovenden showed up as one of Lady Mary’s suitors in Downton Abbey, I said, “Oh, look. It’s Andrew Foyle.”)’

‘At one point, one the characters looks at the series DCS and demands, “What sort of world is this, Mr. Foyle?”’

‘The sort of world this series creates is one that recounts history without letting the background get in the way of great detective stories.’

Runners Up for my choice:

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Endeavour

‘The prequel to the ultra-popular Inspector Morse series. Another historical offering, if you can call the 1960’s historical. The third episode of Season One—“Fugue”—is my pick for the best episode of a detective series ever.’

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Inspector Montalbano

Based on the totally engaging mysteries series by Andrea Camilleri, these shows bring the brilliant Montalbano to the small screen along with great bonuses of realistic, yet wonderfully attractive actors, gripping plots, and oh, so gorgeous Sicilian scenery. The stories move like lightning. The food described is mouth watering. The people have a YUM factor all their own.’

Thanks to Annamaria Alfieri and Iceland Noir.

Iceland Noir booking information.

Annamaria Alfieri is published by White Sun Books and Felony & Mayhem

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