Cardinal, BBC Four

Despite not being one of BBC Four’s heavyweight imports – see The Bridge, Follow The Money, Spiral etc. – this Canadian adaptation of Giles Blunt’s Ontario-set novels packs enough punch to have already gone two rounds with the Saturday evening Nordic Noir brigade and returned last night for a third, in the now-traditional double-episode format.

OK, so Canada isn’t technically Nordic but it’s at about the right latitude, give or take the odd degree, so the scenery looks suitably rugged and the show moves at the same stately pace as its Northern European counterparts. That’s Nordic enough for me.

For the uninitiated, the series is set in the small town of Algonquin Bay in rural Northern Ontario and season three opened where season two ended – with the suicide of Catherine Cardinal, troubled wife of titular detective John Cardinal (Billy Campbell) whose character quirk is to be able to whisper all his lines and still be heard over gunfire and moody background music. There’s a great deal more of the second than the first, thankfully, proof of Cardinal’s emphasis on characterisation and inter-personal relationships over car chases and shoot-outs. This is Canada, after all.

And those relationships do matter. John Cardinal’s domestic woes took up much of season two, but there’s also time and space given to his working relationship with partner Lise Delorme (Karine Vanasse), whose task as episode one opened was to nursemaid her grieving colleague while also exploiting his deductive capabilities for the case at hand. Understandably, Delorme looked perpetually worried. Cardinal, of course, was perpetually worried. And joining them in the Algonquin Bay angst-o-thon was boss Noelle Dyson (Kristen Thomas), whose sister had just died of cancer and whose working week took a turn for the gruesome when a young man shot himself in the head as she was trying to persuade him to lay down his pistol and talk things out. This while she was having a quiet lunch with her partner and her sister's young daughter.

As with series two, the writers’ ploy is to set one hare running and then loose two or three more to add to the thrill. Hare number one, at the start of last’s night double bill, was a double murder in a supposedly empty house which was inadvertently witnessed by a young woman who’d been having sex upstairs with her married lover. Hare number two was the question of whether Catherine Cardinal really did take her own life. Cardinal, the recipient of a mounting number of poison pen letters blaming him for Catherine’s death, was starting to think she didn’t. Hare number three came in the closing moments and left this viewer at least going: “Who are they? Who’s she? What just happened?”.

It may not reach a speedy conclusion, but the race is certainly on.