TV - Karen Pirie


Ahead of the first feature length episode of the new police drama starting on Sunday,  ITV have released an interview with the author of the original Karen Pirie books, Val McDermid...


Press Release

Outlander's Lauren Lyle stars as Karen Pirie in a new ITV cold case murder drama from the producers of Line of Duty and Bodyguard and based on acclaimed author Val McDermid’s novel The Distant Echo.

Lauren Lyle said, “I am completely overjoyed to be bringing the formidable force that is DS Karen Pirie to life through Emer Kenny's slick adaptation. The world Emer has created using the backbone of Val McDermid's much loved books is electrifying and hooked me immediately. I couldn't ask for a more creative, supportive and energetic team to be joining. I'm so thankful to Val, Emer, World Productions and ITV for welcoming me wholeheartedly on board.”

Adapted by Emer Kenny (Harlots, Save Me Too) who also takes the role of Karen’s friend River Wilde, Karen Pirie also stars Chris Jenks (Sex Education) as Jason ‘Mint’ Murray and Zach Wyatt (Blithe Spirit) as DS Phil Parhatka. Further cast includes Michael Schaeffer (The Salisbury Poisonings) as Tom ‘Weird’ Mackie senior, Ariyon Bakare (His Dark Materials) as Alex Gilbey senior and Alec Newman (Unforgotten) as Sigmund ‘Ziggy’ Malkiewicz senior.

Emer Kenny added, "I am so grateful to Val McDermid for lending me her brilliant characters, and beyond excited to work with the actors and Gareth Bryn to bring them to the screen. As I got to know Karen - and in casting the wonderful Lauren - I realised I wanted to be her best friend. So, I am delighted that I will be playing River... Karen's best friend.”

True to Val McDermid’s iconic character, DS Karen Pirie is a young and fearless Scottish investigator with a quick mouth and tenacious desire for the truth, and in the first episode Karen is tasked with reopening a historic murder investigation that has been the subject of a provocative true crime podcast.

When teenager Rosie Duff (Anna Russell-Martin, Casualty) was found brutally murdered in the Scottish university town of St Andrews in 1996, suspicion fell on the three drunken students who were discovered at the scene of the crime, claiming to have found her body; Sigmund ‘Ziggy’ Malkiewicz (Jhon Lumsden, Pancake) Tom ‘Weird’ Mackie (Jack Hesketh, Besa) and Alex Gilbey (Buom Tihngang, Death In Paradise). But with a lack of forensic evidence, no charges were brought and the police investigation floundered.

Twenty-five years on, someone appears to be willing to risk everything to keep the secrets surrounding the case hidden. Do the three men know more than they previously revealed? How flawed was the original investigation? And can Karen uncover the truth of what happened to Rosie that fateful night?




The novels of celebrated crime writer Val McDermid have sold over 17 million copies worldwide. 

How did you feel about the Karen Pirie books being adapted for the screen?

The Karen Pirie books were optioned for television quite a while back. I always thought this book could work well because it’s got such a dramatic opening and it’s an interesting story that takes place over a long period of time. The way it explores the nature of guilt and innocence and what suspicion does to people’s lives over time is something that fascinates readers and viewers alike.


What kind of woman did you want to create in Karen?

I knew she would need to be a bit of an outsider because people who are good at cold case investigations usually come at things from a different angle, they don’t necessarily take the straight-line approach. I hesitate to use the word ‘maverick’ because it’s so overused, but she had to be someone who was capable of thinking outside the box. I knew she was going to be tenacious, tough and funny, because those are the aspects of a character that allow you to develop them over time and make them interesting.

Late 20s seemed a good age for her, because it gives her some experience of the world but she’s not jaded, she still believes that people have good in them. She’s not one of those grizzled, misanthropic middle-aged detectives, she’s interested in the world.



She’s not particularly glamorous, is she?


No, she’s quite often wearing a suit that should have gone to the dry cleaners last week! She’s not vain in that respect. If she has any vanity, it’s about the way that she does her job, about her professional achievements and treating people well, that’s where she takes pride in herself. She’s not really bothered if she hasn’t had time to get her hair cut properly this month. She’s always clean, but not always neat.


How important is humour in these stories?

It’s crucial because it reflects the reality. Everybody I’ve ever known who works in front line services understands the importance of humour as a kind of safety valve, a way to keep your head straight when you’re dealing with truly horrific things.

The kind of black humour you find among police officers, paramedics and fire officers is the way they cope with the horror, finding something ridiculous or absurd to say about it. And it’s not for general consumption out in the world, the emergency services are very careful not to say these things in front of the people directly affected by these things, but it keeps them sane.


Did you ever consider writing the screen adaptation yourself?

My imagination doesn’t work in screenwriting terms – I can write for theatre and radio, but with the expansiveness of writing for the screen I can’t see the way of telling the story, it just doesn’t work for me. I’m so delighted that there are really talented screenwriters who can bring my work to life and give it a sheen and a gloss that I could never manage. Emer has done the job really well.

In some respects, the author is not the best person to suggest the practicalities anyway, the nuts and bolts of getting the story on screen. I’ve already told the story in what seems to me the best way to do it, and that’s a different way for novels. What I want from a screenwriter is for them to see those key elements of the story and then make the building blocks that show the characters that I’ve created. They’ll tell the essential story that I’ve created, although the details will be different.


Is it challenging to hand your books over to another writer?

The thing about adaptation is that you know you’re sending your book off into another world – the way that stories are told on screen is very different to the way they are told on the page, so you just have to be prepared to let it go. You have to make sure the screenwriter and the producers understand the key, essential elements of the character, the things that make them who they are and the elements that make the stories work, and then you say, “OK, now go and make some really good television!”.

The important elements for Karen are her integrity, her commitment to what she does and the fact that she can be brave when she has to be. She has very little respect for authority – she’s not somebody whose idea of doing the job is “Yes Sir, no Sir, three bags full Sir”, she just sees what needs to be done and she does it.


What makes Lauren right for the role?

When I first saw her on set, I thought “She’s got it! She’s got Karen, she understands who she is and she’s doing a fantastic job of projecting that on the screen.” I’m really impressed with what she’s done with the character, she makes me smile.


How involved were you with the production during filming?

I went to set a couple of times and I saw various bits along the way, but really and truly it’s the team’s job to bring the story to life on their terms. My job when the series is being made is only to occasionally step in and tell them if a plotline couldn’t happen, because I know what happens further down the line in the books.


How did you feel sitting down to watch the episodes for the first time?

I was nervous, I’ll be honest, you always are. The last thing you want is for someone to adapt your work badly – I’ve had friends who have had that experience and it’s been really traumatic for them. I knew that wasn’t going to happen with Karen Pirie, because I’d seen enough already, so I wasn’t afraid, but you’re always a bit apprehensive, not just for yourself but the whole team. Luckily, I thought it was great! It looks tremendous, and the differentiation between the two time periods is so clear when you’re watching it, but nothing slaps you round the face, it’s really well made. I was so happy for everybody involved that it was great and I think people will love it.

One of the things you notice very quickly in screen adaptations is that sometimes a single panning shot can tell you something that has taken me four pages to say – there’s an economy of narration that you just can’t do on the page. A lot of that comes down to direction and I think the direction is terrific on this.


Do you feel a responsibility to fans of the books to deliver a brilliant TV adaptation?


As a writer, when you start thinking you have responsibility for people’s responses to your work then you go down a very dangerous road of not being true to the stories you want to tell. Obviously, Karen has some very dedicated fans and I’m hoping they will enjoy this, I think they will. I think it will leave them wanting more. What I hope is that when people watch the series, they will see a new dimension to the stories and it will bring more to their understanding of the books.


Why has Karen struck such a chord with your readers?

People see her as somebody they recognise, a woman they could see in their world. She has a humanity and an honesty about her, she’s someone you would like to have as your friend. As a reader, the characters that you come back to again and again are often the ones you imagine could be your best friend or could even be you with a following wind. She’s not a glamourpuss or a genius, she doesn’t have the little grey cells that make her a superwoman, she feels very possible and very normal.

I like writing her and I enjoy spending time with her, but I don’t think about her when I’m not working with her. People ask who my favourite character is and it’s always the one I’m working on right now. The others are locked in the toybox for now!


Are there more Karen books in the pipeline?

I’ve always written the book that was shouting loudest in my head, and there’s an idea for a Karen book that keeps making noise, so I will be writing that next before returning to the Nine series.


Where do you get inspiration for your characters?

Characters are always amalgams of people you’ve met or ideas you have in your own head about the way in which people behave. I was fortunate, I was a journalist for 16 years and I met all sorts of people in all sorts of circumstances, so I have that marvellous database of people in my head, which I draw on all the time.


Are you still fascinated by the world of crime, after all these years?

Yes, I keep current with changes in the law and procedure, and developments in forensic science and other areas I’m choosing to write about. The extraordinary thing about crime fiction is that every time you think there’s nowhere else for it to go, it reinvents itself – the last 30 years have seen amazing development. When I started out there were really just village mysteries and police procedurals, but now we’ve got psychological thrillers, domestic suspense, family dramas… you can write any kind of novel and still have the advantages that a crime story brings, so what’s to get bored with?


Would you read crime fiction to relax?

Yes, I read crime fiction but I read lots of other books as well, I’m always just looking for good stories well told. Like other people I watch crime dramas too, but I’ve got pretty eclectic TV tastes so I watch other things as well. I like The Great British Sewing Bee and The Great Pottery Throw Down, programmes showing passionate people doing things well.

The first of three feature-length Karen Pirie episodes starts on ITV on Sunday 25th September at 8 pm

Images - ITV
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