The BBC Radio series of Victorian detective stories featuring Inspector James McLevy were completely unknown to me until I discovered, in my Crimefest delegate bag, a promotional CD of one of the episodes, For Unto Us. I’ve now listened to it and done a bit of research about McLevy.
The radio series was conceived and written by David Ashton, and features Brian Cox, a formidable actor, in the title role. The setting is Victorian Edinburgh and McLevy is a ‘thief-taker’ feared by the city’s villains and his subordinates in equal measure. His prime adversary is Jean Brash, as intelligent and sexy as she is criminally inclined, and her personal relationship with McLevy is pleasingly equivocal. She’s a sort of Irene Adler, if you like, but developed more fully than Conan Doyle’s adventuress.
The strength of the episode I heard was definitely in the interplay of the characters. The ‘mystery’ element was distinctly underwhelming; neither the main story nor the sub-plot held my interest, unlike the gibes traded between the cops and the robbers, which were pretty entertaining.
It turns out that there was a real James McLevy, who wrote about his cases, and was quite a star in his day. David Ashton has also written novels about his hero, and it may be that the novel form gives him rather more scope to develop the plots of the stories. Overall verdict on the CD: decent easy listening to while away a tedious commute by car.