It is 25 years now that London-based police detective Jane Tennison first appeared on the TV screen in April 1991. The British TV series Prime Suspect was a huge hit then and the following years until its final episode in 2006. I remember watching most episodes at one time, with a magnificient performance of Helen Mirren in the lead role.
The original inventor of the series fictional Jane Tennison character, British writer Lynda La Plante, has thankfully decided two years ago to breathe new life into Jane Tennison, with new cases that build a prequel to the original episodes. Contrary to the rule of thumb that no good companion novels come after great TV series, both the TV series and the novels are superb and you should consider to both read and watch.
It is slightly complicated, though, to keep track of the episodes and cases, also there are some caveats. So, primarily for my own benefit, I’m going to shed some light on what-is-what.
This is the 1991+ original plot featuring Jane Tennison as hardboiled detective with London’s Metropolitan Police Service in the then present time, fighting not only crime, but also her male colleagues and sometimes herself, too.
The TV Series
The 1991-2006 UK TV Series starring Helen Mirren was produced by Granada and screened by ITV. It is not to be confused with the short-lived 2011 US adaptation starring Maria Bello. Wikipedia is a bit confusing, listing seven series with 15 episodes, but in fact we talk about nine cases in seven series that Jane Tennison had to solve. Most cases were split to several episodes for TV screening and one series contained three cases, while normally there has been only one case per series:
- Prime Suspect (1991): How it all started, Jane Tennison against male colleagues and the evil killer George Marlow.
- Prime Suspect II (aka A Face in the Crowd, 1992): Racial discrimination and an unsolved murder case.
- Prime Suspect III (aka Silent Victims, 1993): Jane Tennison hands in her notice, only for short of course, and solves a case around prostitution, child abuse and a mole in Old Bill.
- The Lost Child (1995): A dead child and a promotion for Jane Tennison.
- Inner Circles (1995): Murder of a country club manager leads to Jane Tennison uncovering a political scandal.
- The Scent of Darkness (1995): Villain George Marlow, or at least his modus operandi, is back.
- Errors of Judgement (1996): Jane Tennison investigates in Manchester.
- The Last Witness (2003): Jane Tennison is involved in the aftermath of the Bosnian war.
- The Final Act (2006): A last big case and Jane Tennison is off to retirement.
All episodes and cases are available in a very reasonably priced DVD collection (with a combined runtime of almost 24 hours!) and older episodes may be available on some streaming services. Also, don’t forget to watch the hilarious 1997 cross-over Prime Cracker, a 13 minutes episode starring Helen Mirren and Robbie Coltrane.
Novels exist only for the first three cases, all written by Lynda La Plante and first published in parallel to the first three TV series in the early nineties (Prime Suspect, 1991; Prime Suspect 2: A Face in the Crowd, 1992; Prime Suspect 3: Silent Victims, 1993).
The scripts for the other six TV series’ cases were written by different authors and never made it to novels, probably due to copyright issues as it seems that Lynda La Plante might own the rights to the fictional character of Jane Tennison, but not to the Prime Suspect TV format. As she wasn’t commissioned to write the TV series’ scripts after the first three cases anymore, a legal stalemate would have been the consequence.
If you want to read the first three cases today, the cheapest way is to purchase the paperback or ebook editions that were re-published in late 2014 with all three cases in one volume. You can also purchase paperback and ebook editions of each of the first three cases separately but that will cost you considerably more.
This is the 2015+ succession plot featuring the young Jane Tennison, having just joined London’s Metropolitan Police Service in the early seventies. As usual, Tennison runs into trouble with her male colleagues.
The TV Series
There is no TV series yet, but ITV has announced that they have commissioned a 6 x 60 minute series following the plot of the 2015 Tennison novel with actress Stefanie Martini as young Jane Tennison, which is great news. Rumors say that the series is to be aired on ITV later this year.
As of now, we have two Tennison novels:
- Tennison was published in September 2015 and features a complex crime plot in which young Jane Tennison is quickly involved after joining the police force. I’ll stay silent on more details here to not give any spoiler. Paperback and ebook editions available since June this year, or just download the first chapter from Lynda La Plante’s website.
- The second novel in the Tennison series, Hidden Killers, is in the making and has been announced to be published on 20 October 2016.