Saturday 14 January 2023

Guest Book vs TV Series: How does the TV series “Karen Pirie” compare with the book “The Distant Echo”

You know I love a book vs movie comparisson so when my dad offered to make one for a book and TV series that he loves I immediately said, yes please! There may be spoilers ahead-you have been warned!

On a freezing Fife morning four drunken students stumble upon the body of a woman in the snow. Rosie has been raped, stabbed and left for dead in an ancient Pictish cemetery. And the only suspects are the four young men now stained with her blood.

Twenty-five years later the police mount a ‘cold case’ review of Rosie’s unsolved murder and the four are still suspects. But when two of them die in suspicious circumstances, it seems that someone is pursuing their own brand of justice. For the remaining two there is only one way to avoid becoming the next victim – find out who really killed Rosie all those years ago…

The TV series “Karen Pirie” was broadcast recently as a three-part series. Adapted for television by Emer Kenney, it is based on the book “The Distant Echo” by Val McDermid which was published in 2003.

The gist of the book’s plot is followed fairly closely by the television programme. There are a number of differences, however. In the book, the historic crime takes place in 1978, and the cold case investigation is undertaken 25 years later in 2003. During this period, there were major developments in forensic science, namely the introduction of DNA profiling which was not available in 1978, and these are explored in the book. The timeframe of the TV series is shifted forward, beginning in 1996 and with the cold case review taking place in 2021. This allowed the screenwriter Emer Kenney, who also plays the part of River Wilde, to include references to a number of contemporary issues, such as women’s safety and potential racism among some sections of the Police. In addition, Karen Pirie is an officer in Fife Constabulary in the book, which was written prior to the merger of Scotland’s regional police forces in 2008, but in the TV series she works for the merged force Police Scotland.

“The Distant Echo” is the first book in the Karen Pirie series and she does not appear until well into the book and her rank is Detective Constable. I can see how this would not be suitable for a TV programme since the character would need to be introduced at an early stage. Also, her rank in the TV series is Detective Sergeant, and this allows her to manage the historic cases unit, assisted by her sidekick Detective Constable Jason Murray.

I enjoyed the TV series and found it to be a tense thriller, even though having read the book I was aware of the outcome. I did have a couple of reservations, however. Although I thought the actress Lauren Lyle who played Karen Pirie did a very good job, my impression from the books is that the detective is a slightly older woman, with plenty of investigative experience in discovering the truth when interviewing witnesses, and plenty of self-confidence when standing up to her superiors. In addition, much of the story is set in and around the university town of St Andrews. Although a number of the scenes were obviously shot in St Andrews, there were other scenes that clearly were not St Andrews but some other coastal town. One particular howler was a scene that was supposedly set in a lecture theatre at St Andrews University, but the crest on the wall was that of Glasgow University. 

To order the book for yourself and see the difference, just click here!

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