The BritBox mystery series Karen Pirie is perfectly cast. Lauren Lyle plays the Scottish detective sergeant whose baby-faced looks belie her tough interior. When a podcast rekindles interest in the 1996 murder of a young woman, Pirie is tapped by her supervisors to reopen the cold case.
Rosie Duff, a teenage barmaid was found brutally murdered and left in a St. Andrew’s graveyard in the historic university town. The three students who partied with Rosie on that fateful night and later found her body were suspected of causing her death. No charges were ever brought because of a lack of forensic evidence. Twenty-five years later, someone is desperate to keep Rosie’s case buried.
The three boys are now adults with careers and families. Alex (Ariyon Baker) is an artist, Tom, called “Weird” (Michael Shaeffer), a university lecturer, and Ziggy (Alec Newman), a physician. Being dragged back into the investigation upends their lives and brings them – reluctantly – back together. They once again become prime suspects and, with the advent of the internet, are targeted online with hate speech and then, tragically, violence.
Pirie has never worked on a serious investigation. And being asked to head up the Rosie Duff case quickly extinguishes an early romance she’s begun with her fellow officer, DS Phil Parhatka (Zach Wyatt), who hoped to be given the job. “Heading up the investigation” isn’t as fancy as it sounds. Pirie’s only assistance comes in the form of DC Jason Murray (Chris Jenks), a young, inexperienced officer. He soon, however, proves that he’s more than up to the challenge.
Reexamining the forensics, Pirie learns that Rosie once gave birth to a child. Although the Duff family tells Pirie that the baby died, she discovers the baby was adopted. Who is the father? Could he have killed Rosie? And if the baby lived, then Rosie’s daughter is out there and may know something critical to the investigation. Pirie’s superior officers tell her to abandon that line of inquiring – something that just makes her even more determined to find Rosie’s daughter and learn the father’s identity.
Lyle, best known as Marsali MacKimmie Fraser in the Starz television drama Outlander, nails the Karen Pirie character. (“It’s a bad time to be named Karen,” she jokes at one point.) Her innocent looks mislead other police officers as well as the suspects she interviews. When they let down their guard, she pounces. She’s quick to make connections and while she pushes the envelope – pressuring a good friend to use a former boyfriend to access an ancestry site to find Rosie’s daughter, for example – she never crosses the line.
The other standout is Anna Russell-Martin who plays Rosie. Because of the flashbacks, her character gets a lot of well deserved screen time. She imbues the barmaid and eventual victim with an exuberance that makes anyone nearby – men and women – eager to be with her. Her magnetic personality no doubt attracted the wrong man, but also many who were trying to protect her. The sole woman in a household filled with men also meant her father and brothers were devastated by her death and would stop at nothing to get revenge.
The three episodes – each 90 minutes long – fly by. This is one that will keep you up until you finish.
Karen Pirie is now streaming on BritBox
Photos of Lauren Lyle courtesy of BritBox