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Five Great British Mysteries


The Brits undeniably produce the finest cop shows. My five favorites are below, but I know there are many more candidates. If you send me your choices (with comment if you like), I will include them in a future column. 

‘Happy Valley’

“Happy Valley” is set in rugged West Yorkshire in Northern England. “Happy” refers to drugs, not joy. Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) is a tough police sergeant dealing with the suicide of her daughter. When the druggie who drove her to suicide is released from prison, Cawood learns that he is involved in a kidnapping, and things quickly turn dark and violent. Like many of the best police shows, the crime is secondary to the characters, all of which are played brilliantly. This is a gritty, graphic show, written and directed by Sally Wainwright 

‘The Fall’

Gillian Anderson, who at first presents more like a supermodel than a cop, plays DS Stella Gibson in “The Fall.” But she quickly gains our confidence, and as a bonus turns out to be a little bit slutty as she tracks down a serial murderer. 

In episode one, we are unexpectedly introduced to the killer, Paul Spector (Jamie Dorman), who seems like a decent chap when he’s not strangling his lovely victims.  

If you like your suspense on the sexy side or if you play guitar, this one is for you. (The characters are named after guitars: Gibson, Spector, Stella.)

‘Foyle’s War’

If you fancy a change of pace, you could not do better than this police procedural set during and just after World War II. Its distinction comes from its attention to period detail and the quiet, courteous and determined character of detective Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen). 

He is assisted in his investigations by his driver, Samantha Stewart, played by a British actress charmingly named Honeysuckle Weeks. (Don’t you feel that the actress and character should switch names?)

‘Line of Duty’

“Line of Duty” does not have one central character, but it offers masterful plotting, lots of action, and all the twists and turns expected of a great thriller. 

In series one, Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) and Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure), detectives on the Anti-Corruption Unit, investigate Tony Gates (Lennie James), a decorated cop whose affair leads him into making a huge misstep. 

“If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging,” a pal advises, but Tony can’t stop, and that takes us into some very dark places.


The chemistry between DCI Cassie Stuart (Nicola Walker) and DI Sunny Kahn (Sanjeev Bhaskar) is part of the appeal of this acclaimed show. 

Each series begins with an historical (cold case) murder, and then introduces several characters that have some connection with the victim. 

As Cassie and Sunny dig deeper, the lives of these characters come into focus, and your job and theirs is to identify which one is the killer. Yes, a formula, but a great one.


• I always use closed captions for British shows; you need them for “Happy Valley.” 

• All shows are available on the usual streaming services; “Unforgotten” is also on PBS.

• DS = Detective Superintendent,  DCI = Detective Chief Inspector, DI = Detective Inspector

• You can reach me at eferman2@gmail.com

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