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Reviews / Review: ‘Shetland’ picks up its pace at last

‘Shetland’ may just be fitting into an identity of its own: fellow cops Tosh (Alison O’Donnell) and Shetland-born Steven Robertson who plays Sandy - Photo: BBC

The murder-mystery series based on the novels by Anne Cleeves is back for a third outing. Episode one suggests a darker, faster and altogether more thrilling ride than its predecessors, writes Jordan Ogg.

We last saw Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez atop a cliff on Fair Isle.

Played by Dougie Henshall, he had been investigating a sluggish bout of murderous activity on the island – a set of killings so dull in fact, that it would not have been at all surprising he had chosen to leap off the crag just for a bit of action.

He didn’t in the end, and on the basis of this new episode, thankfully so.

Bestubbled and irritable, Perez now presents a rather more interesting character. Living alone in a Lerwick Lodberry, he seems in need of something meaty to get his teeth into.

A bite comes with the disappearance of a young man on the ferry crossing from Aberdeen to Lerwick. Then a little boy ends up in intensive care after swallowing some dodgy pills washed ashore at St Ninan’s Isle.

Drawn to the beach, Perez takes an admirable kicking while scouring the ebb for evidence, before being saved by his affable assistant Sandy, played by Shetland-born Steven Robertson.

With help from fellow cop Tosh (Alison O’Donnell), now displaying a waspish side to her deadbeat demeanour, the team begin to fathom a connection between events.

As they unravel the threads that will be spun in this six-part series, we meet an oddball artist with a penchant for painting road kill, a pot-smoking drug dealer, and a hotel worker on holiday from Aberdeen whose visit may be more of an escape, but from what we cannot yet tell.

Reintroduced are Perez’s daughter and her step-father, both of whom are likely to see the DI develop into a character whose life is not, despite appearances, purely all about his work.

Bestubbled and irritable, Perez now presents a rather more interesting character - Photo: BBC

Most striking is the performance by Ciaran Hinds as Michael, his transformation in this single episode moving between elements of the extreme to devastating effect. His presence, at once equivocal, hard, tender and mysterious, is just the kind of gripping tonic we need.

Much was said about the Scandi-crime roots of the earlier Shetland productions. The isles’ brooding landscapes served their purpose well in this regard. But the writing and direction failed to deliver anything close to the thrills seen in the likes of The Killing and Wallander.

Now, with a new team of producers and writers at the helm, Shetland may just be fitting into an identity of its own: a bit Scandi, a bit Scottish, a bit BBC, and a bit, well, Shetland.

There are some fine woolly jumpers on show. But gone are the rolling shots of Perez and his sidekicks driving past deserted moors and tramping around misty hills.

Instead we see measured views of St Ninian’s Isle on a fine day, beaches drenched in moonlight and aerial shots of Lerwick’s old town at night time – all serving to prove the validity of the less is more ratio.

Short scenes, peppered with witty dialogue and believable moments of emotion kept the action moving quickly. Meanwhile a sense of unease pervaded: Perez’s house lit like a mausoleum; the town’s outdoor spaces enclosing and grey, its pubs unfriendly.

Ending well with a necessarily horrible event, there are yet many dark alleyways for the DI and his team to explore.