STARZ's 'Dublin Murders': Mysterious, Compelling and Challenging

Killian Scott and Sarah Greene in "Dublin Murders" (Photo: BBC/Starz)
Killian Scott and Sarah Greene in "Dublin Murders" (Photo: BBC/Starz)

The first episode of Dublin Murders aired this week on premium cable network Starz, and we're all really hoping the series will be as good as this beginning. Just to be clear, I am a great admirer of author Tana French’s writing, and I think I was at an advantage, knowing what was going on (most of the time). And before you read on, or dive into the series, please be aware that this a series centered on childhood trauma and murder.

I was surprised to find that the writer of the series, Sarah Phelps, decided to combine the first two books, In The Woods and The Likeness into one story, following a conversation with French in which she admitted that she tends to think of her books in pairs. I’m still not sure whether this will work: clearly In The Woods is Rob Reilly’s story and The Likeness is Cassie Maddox’s.

The acting is extraordinary. We meet our protagonists Rob Reilly (Killian Scott, Augustus Dove in Ripper Street) and Cassie Maddox (Sarah Greene, Hecate in Penny Dreadful) of the Dublin Murder Squad four months before the case featured in In The Woods. In a few short, brilliantly choreographed scenes, we see the two detectives investigate and solve a convenience store murder, reading each other’s verbal and physical cues with the ease of deep understanding. But it only seems to go so far—Cassie knows Rob’s deepest secret, but we don’t know what else they hide from each other.

Killian Scott as Rob Reilly and Sarah Greene as Cassie Maddox in "Dublin Murders." Photo: BBC/RTE
Killian Scott as Rob Reilly and Sarah Greene as Cassie Maddox in "Dublin Murders." (Photo: BBC/Starz)

Rob and Cassie's next case, the story at the heart of French's first novel In The Woods, sees this delicate balance begin to unravel. The victim is a thirteen-year-old girl, Katy Devlin, found on an archaeological excavation, posed on a stone altar, in a wooded rural area. In the same location, twenty-one years earlier, three children went into these same woods and only one was found. The mystery has never been solved and it turns out Rob is this survivor, who has never remembered, or admitted to, what happened that day. Boarding school in England and a name change have successfully concealed his identity. Both he and Cassie know they should not take on this case, but they can’t let it go.

Naturally, the detectives have to find out if there any links between the two cases, and there’s a chilling scene where Rob enters the dark aisles of the evidence room with flashbacks to his thirteen-year-old self walking between towering trees. And this is where the mythological/fairy tale references kick in. Is Katy the doomed princess of her family? (Rob and Cassie both know there is some family dynamic that must be deciphered, something that is not quite right). Rob’s original (first) name is Adam, cast out of Paradise with his innocence gone; Cassie is short for Cassandra, the doomsayer of ancient Troy. Rob dreams of a wolf; an elderly woman suggest that the fairies may be implicated in Katy’s death, and the brooding images of the forest (or something dark within it) that takes children returns again and again.

There are a couple of scenes which seem out of place in this episode—the Dublin mafia ordering an underling to walk down a dark country road with a paint pot (I think that’s what it was. And why?); and a stranger looking around Cassie’s empty apartment. We also learn that Cassie has been undercover in a case that is yet to be fully resolved. In both books, French’s plots require a massive suspension of disbelief, but I find her writing good enough to trust the books and her vision. Whether this can be sustained on a TV series is debatable. The pacing is slow at time, there’s a huge cast of characters, and the series demands the viewer’s attention.

Have you watched Dublin Murders? What did you think?