Crime dramas usually begin with cops teaming up; Dublin Murders opens with a team falling apart. Rob Reilly (Killian Scott) and Cassie Maddox (Sarah Greene) are two cops well past the edge. He’s a broken man on the verge of cracking up entirely; she’s dismissive, one foot already out the door.
“What if the killed are the lucky ones,” he says, “and the rest of us aren’t lucky at all?”
“We won’t see each other again,” she replies, leaving him behind.
What brought them to this point? We’ve got eight episodes to find out.
Flashback to four months earlier, and we’re presented with a very different Rob and Cassie. Here the Dublin homicide detectives are a polished duo: Rob’s a sharp dresser with an English accent with just a hint of loose cannon about him, while the former undercover cop Cassie is his more grounded best friend.
They’re a team that gets the job done, and their latest case is a big one. A 13-year-old girl, Katherine Devlin (Amy Macken), has been found dead and put on display in the woods outside a nearby small town.
From the start everyone wonders if there could be a link to the high-profile disappearance of two children in the same woods 20 years ago. Through a series of flashbacks we see the trio riding their bikes into the forest, but where three go in, only one – Adam (Michael D’Arcy) – comes out, his clothing slashed and his shoes and socks filled with blood that wasn’t his own. Adam was never able to tell anyone what happened to the others, and their disappearance remains unsolved; could this be a chance to crack that case too?
Based on a pair of novels (In the Woods and The Likeness) by acclaimed American-Irish crime writer Tana French, Dublin Murders is operating on a number of levels. Beyond the murder mystery, there’s an astute eye for psychological detail, most obviously in the nuances of the relationship between Rob and Cassie. Their being best friends ties them together in a way not often seen in police team-ups. Each knows the other’s weaknesses, even though they may not know exactly the depths of the secrets that lie beneath them.
Set in 2006 (the forest flashbacks go back to 1985), there’s a constant tension underlying events, a feeling that everyone is caught up in something beyond their control. For Rob, that’s symbolised by his constant dream of being chased by wolves through the night – and that’s not the only fairytale element in this story of children who go into the woods and don’t come back.
Cassie has issues of her own. There’s a sinister stranger lurking around her flat who may have ties to her recent undercover work, while her relationship with a fellow detective seems to be something she’s firmly keeping under the radar. But the real drama early on lies in her concerns for Rob. There’s a good reason why Cassie doesn’t want the pair to get too caught up in this case; whether Rob can let it go is another matter entirely.
The murder itself isn’t short of twists and turns either. For one thing, the Devlin family definitely has something strange going on. They’re a collection of creepy stereotypes, from older sister Rosalind (Leah McNamara) to the murdered Katy’s identical twin sister Jessica, while father Jonathan (Peter McDonald) comes across as a sinister figure even before we learn that he too had a connection to the woods back in 1985.
When the family’s version of events fails to match up with the coroner’s estimated time of death, it’s enough to push them up an already crowded list of suspects. Jonathan’s connection to the protesters opposed to a highway development planned to run through the heart of the woods could be significant. Then there’s the strange double act of a shady local businessman and a clearly disturbed homeless man who’s going round painting the unsettling slogan “He Rises”. Throw in some simmering envy towards Katy (she was a ballerina whose star was well on the rise) and the whole town’s under suspicion.
There’s clearly a deeper mystery here. But it’s the relationship between Cassie and Rob that lies at the core of this series, giving it an emotional grounding that pushes it beyond a straightforward tale of crime and punishment. Early on, the duo have such an obvious warmth and connection in their relationship (thanks in large part to the easy chemistry between Scott and Greene); what could they possibly have to face that could destroy that?
Watch Dublin Murders season 1 at SBS On Demand now.
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