‘Dublin Murders’ Stars Tease Dark Cases and Even Darker Characters
Think of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad novels as an adrenaline jolt in book form, keeping countless readers up at night as they devour chapter after chapter. Screenwriter Sarah Phelps, who adapted the Ireland-set detective tales for television, counts herself among the devotees. “I opened In the Woods, and within three pages, I went ‘Wow,'” she says. “By the time I read another 20 pages, I was so absorbed.”
Starz snatched up the rights to French’s series while looking for its next splashy show. With Outlander — the time-hopping romantic drama based on Diana Gabaldon’s bestsellers that airs its fifth season next year — the network found a hit, averaging 1.5 million viewers an episode at the height of its popularity. (That’s a feat for any premium cable channel not named HBO.)
And while the dark and brooding Dublin Murders couldn’t be more different in tone from Outlander‘s sweeping saga of married lovers Claire and Jamie, both book series share key traits: loyal fans (French’s titles have sold more than 5 million copies worldwide) and two core characters with a unique connection.
With Dublin, that’s chain-smoking detective Rob Reilly (Killian Scott, Ripper Street) and his clever, calm partner, Cassie Maddox (Sarah Greene, Penny Dreadful), who are each grappling with personal demons from their childhoods. “Cassie and Rob are bonded by terrible things that happened to them [separately],” reveals Phelps. “They’ve spent all this time wondering why the hell they survived, and how to live as a survivor.”
Eight riveting episodes cover the events of the series’ first two entries: In the Woods (2007) looks at a 13-year-old girl’s murder as it dredges up painful memories for Rob, while the victim in The Likeness (2008) appears to have some sort of connection to Cassie. The TV series begins in 2006 with the partners bidding goodbye to each other, then flashes back.
Four months earlier, grief hangs heavy over the small Irish town where Cassie and Rob have been dispatched after young Katy Devlin (Amy Macken), an aspiring ballerina, is found dead on a large rock in a remote wooded area. The location is significant to Rob, who has intimate ties to a trio of kids who vanished near that spot 21 years earlier.
Cassie is one of the only people from his adult life who knows this, and to avoid a conflict of interest, she suggests they pass the case on to other detectives. But he can’t turn away from finding out who is responsible. “Rob is very disturbed and upset by what has happened to the girl,” says Scott, who adds that the events in the character’s past compel him to press forward. “There’s a bit of a crusader in Rob. Protecting children is important to him.”
That’s hard to do when the pair have no witnesses and little evidence. What they do have are too many potential suspects: archaeologists working in the woods, a mysterious man in a blue tracksuit, even the girl’s grieving father, Jonathan (Peter McDonald), a former wild child whose wife, Margaret (Kathy Monahan), is left completely devastated by Katy’s death.
As Rob and Cassie struggle to make headway, the ominous forest looms in the background, adding extra chills. “There is a feeling that the landscape is watching you, that there is something in the woods,” Phelps teases. The macabre situation takes a toll on Rob, who starts having nightmares and hallucinations.
And that’s only the first case. For a preview of the second, TV Guide Magazine watched the cast film in the remote countryside near Belfast on a blustery day last February. The scene: The corpse of a young woman slumps against the crumbling wall of a decrepit stone cottage. She’s dressed for a night out, in fishnet tights and a satin blouse now soaked in blood. Her eyes, wide open and staring up at the gray Irish sky, are identical to Cassie’s — this victim, named Lexie, is the detective’s doppelgänger. (Greene pulls double duty, playing both roles.)
Seeing a unique opportunity, Frank Mackey (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), Cassie’s old boss from her days undercover, asks her to suss out what happened by adopting Lexie’s identity and moving into an old mansion with the woman’s housemates — who don’t know Lexie is dead. Cassie agrees to the assignment, but only after a terrible crack forms in her relationship with Rob.
“Throughout the season, you see Rob and Cassie create chaos and damage because of their darkness,” Greene says. “When they’re good, they’re amazing, but it’s not a healthy relationship.” It is, however, addictive to watch.
Dublin Murders, Series Premiere Sunday, November 10, 8/7c, Starz