In Plain Sight: Scotland's first serial killer comes to NZ television

by Fiona Rae / 03 October, 2017
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In Plain Sight.

A three-part drama follows the cop who eventually nabbed Scottish serial killer Peter Manuel.

If you’re a bit fed up with all that gloomy Scandi noir and spooky murder mystery, how about going back in time to before the term serial killer was even coined?

Sadly, every country has its first, and Peter Manuel was Scotland’s: over two years in the mid-1950s, he killed at least eight people. Lanarkshire police had never dealt with anything like it and failed to see the psychopath in their midst.

Hence the title of three-part series In Plain Sight (Vibe, Sky 006, Tuesday, October 3, 9.30pm), which tells the story of Manuel’s reign of terror and detective William Muncie the only cop who saw him for what he was.

Martin Compston transforms himself from the upright Steve Arnott in Line of Duty into the cocky, narcissistic Manuel. As the story begins, he is just out of prison after Muncie put him away for nine years for housebreaking and sexual assault.

Shetland’s Douglas Henshall dons a suit, hat and moustache to play the upright Muncie. He knows he’s in a battle with Manuel, who is sending him vaguely threatening birthday and Christmas cards.

In his first heinous act after prison, Manuel sexually assaults a local woman, then represents himself in court, destroying his victim again in the witness box.

For a quiet area outside Glasgow, the murder spree that followed was terrifying. Henshall’s mother, who was a teenager at the time, had told him about Manuel.

“I remember her talking about how nervous and frightened people were,” he told the Daily Record. “We’re from Barrhead, which is far enough away that my mum and her friends probably weren’t in danger, but it proves the way fear reaches out, especially when you haven’t caught somebody and you are reading these terrible things in the papers. God only knows what it must have been like for the people who were actually living there at the time.”

Even the younger Compston had heard of Manuel, but not the extent of his crimes.

“I went to Manuel’s house one night after shooting, just to sit outside,” he told the Record. “All the murders were in a 10-minute area. It’s a horrific kill zone in this tiny area. The community must have been terrified.”

The series is an old-fashioned tussle between good and evil and Compston and Henshall are terrific.

One British critic said he couldn’t recall a finer onscreen battle of wits “since Starling and Lecter” [in The Silence of the Lambs].

This article was first published in the September 30, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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