London has long captivated the world with its fascinating stories, both real and fictional. From the winding cobblestones to the alleyways illuminated by lamp lights, as the fog rolls across bridges and buildings, so do our favorite detectives, who have made a home among London’s hidden streets and noir-like secret passages.
But what is it that draws us to the fascinating detective shows that are set in this city? Is it the intrigue of uncovering the darkness beneath an ancient metropolis? Or the thrill of sharing the same vision as that of legendary mystery authors like Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie? After all, experiencing London through the eyes of Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple sounds idealistic. Either way, London’s twisted layout hides surprises around every corner.
Whether you’re looking for procedural crime dramas that leave you agape with their mysteries or clever detective puzzles where new clues are unraveled every second, this list has the 11 best detective series set in the noir city. London’s vibrant, chameleon-like quality makes it the perfect setting for detective yarns, if you’re willing to go on a little search for answers.
11 Prime Suspect (1991 – 2006)
Led by the brilliant, no-nonsense Detective Chief Inspector (DCI), Jane Tennison, each episode of Prime Suspect follows her pursuit of justice on the streets of London. Starting as one of the only female detectives in a male-dominated police force, Jane works twice as hard to gain the respect of her colleagues, who deliberately keep suppressing facts about gruesome crimes just because she’s a woman.
One Woman’s Unflinching Passion for the Truth
Prime Suspect is a groundbreaking detective series that was ahead of its time. Through its portrayal of a strong female lead and by tackling issues of gender politics in the workplace, it stands out as one of the most brilliant British crime dramas. Helen Mirren gives an unforgettable performance as the troubled and complex Jane Tennision. Her raw dedication towards work makes the series compelling to watch, even today.
10 The Capture (2019 – Present)
In contemporary London, DI Rachel Carey, a young and determined woman, is assigned to the case of a British soldier who becomes a murder suspect. Upon investigating the facts, it is found out that his airtight alibi is actually a fake video. As Carey peels back the layers of this revelation, she uncovers a vast conspiracy related to the power of technology and how it is manipulated by those in power.
A Very Slick Cat-and-Mouse Game
It has been established that detective crime dramas showcase investigations that rely heavily on security footage and surveillance cameras. But what happens when the very thing that is supposed to be evidence in court is tinkered with? Offering a relevant, high-concept premise, The Capture emerges as a tightly-paced thriller that never lets up. With Holliday Grainger in the lead and Callum Turner in the supporting role, the series becomes an increasing battle of wits and wills.
9 Bodyguard (2018 – Present)
Winner of two Golden Globes, Bodyguard is an incredible six-part series from the mind of Jed Mercurio, who also created Line of Duty. It centers around war veteran David Budd (played by Game of Thrones star Richard Madden), who works as a protection officer for London’s Metropolitan Police Service.
When he is assigned to protect the controversial Home Secretary Julia Montague, Budd begins to question his own values. With his PTSD and her political inclinations, tensions rise in their working relationship and Budd soon realizes Montague’s role in threats he’s tasked with avoiding.
Gripping Game of Politics That Keeps You Guessing
The nail-biting plot of Bodyguard, its unflinching and unfiltered look into British politics as well as remarkable performances by Richard Madden and Keeley Hawesand constantly keeps you on the edge of your seat. Superbly crafted to keep each scene tense and twisted, this political thriller rises above the expectations of the genre and proves that there is darkness lurking within the most glorious institutions.
8 Waking the Dead (2000 – 2011)
Among the longest running British crime dramas, Waking the Dead finds a sweet spot because of its seasoned team working at a fictional London-based cold case unit. Led by DCI Peter Boyd, we see a team of detectives, psychologists, and forensic scientists working tirelessly to bring long-overdue justice and closure to unsolved cases by using modern methods.
Truth Will Be Out, No Matter How Deeply Buried
With its riveting ensemble cast and a series of captivating cases, Waking the Dead gives the audience an invaluable insight into the psychological toll of solving cases that have been dismissed or given up on just because they’ve been too hard.
The characters may be damaged, but they’re dedicated, and the show crafts a multi-layered portrayal of their personal lives. Week after week, we witness cold cases coming to a satisfying resolution.
7 Marcella (2016 – 2021)
More than just a detective drama, Marcella is a character study that plunges in the ugliest and most traumatic depths of its protagonist’s life. Struggling with memory loss and flashes from a dark past, Sergeant Marcella Backland distracts herself with work. Despite having left the Metropolitan Police Department, she returns to handle a serial murder case and inserts herself into the line of fire to catch the killer.
Mesmerizing Descent into Shadowy Conscience
Marcella has the moody atmosphere that London is synonymous with. With its psychologically disturbing narrative, it draws audiences in. The show finds an intense, flawed, yet competent lead in Anna Friel, who hurtles the show towards an explosive finale with her fractured character. The dark cinematography and hypnotic pace makes this gripping series worth a watch.
6 Silent Witness (1996 – Present)
- Release Date
- February 1, 1996
- Emilia Fox , David Caves , Richard Lintern
Nigel McCrery, a former murder squad detective based in Nottingham, is the creator of this show. Inspired by people he knew while working on the force, he centers the show against the backdrop of Lyell Centre, where an esteemed pathologist and her team use cutting-edge forensics to investigate gruesome crimes and suspicious deaths. From mysterious epidemics to high-profile murders, the show has turned every rock in its 26 seasons.
Long-Running Drama Charged by Groundbreaking Science
Don’t be fooled, Silent Witness is actually still in production for another season and is showing no signs of slowing down. For over two decades, it has stayed impactful in the genre due to its intelligent storytelling and gritty passion for crime-solving. In a way, the show is all about science catching killers, which is bound to get tedious with time, but the intense, creepy, ever-evolving and never-ending stories prove otherwise.
5 Giri/Haji (2019)
The eight-episode miniseries follows a Tokyo detective named Kenzo Mori, who flies to London after his allegedly dead brother Yuto is implicated in a gangland murder. Diving headfirst into the powerful and dangerous areas of organized crime, police corruption, and a secret family history, his search for answers threatens to destroy everything around him.
A Thrilling East-Meets-West Dance of Noir Drama
Fans of Tarantino would be delighted to watch Giri/Haji because of its use of brutal violence and lyrical cinematography. Right from the opening frames, this British-Japanese co-production infuses style and grit into the crime genre. Takehiro Hira and Will Sharpe are truly outstanding in their roles, which lock you in a death grip and make the series an underseen gem that deserves far wider recognition.
4 Strike (2017 – Present)
- Release Date
- August 27, 2017
As a soldier-turned-private eye, Cormoran Strike tackles London’s most complex and perilous cases with effortless poise. Together with his trusted assistant Robin Ellacott, he solves almost every scale of a case, from tracing missing persons to unraveling decades old cases and facing up against the most cold-blooded killers.
No Mystery Is Too Twisted for These Partners
Strike only recently had its fifth season premiere on BBC One, and it is clear that the show is setting the standard for modern London detective dramas. Based on the book series written by J. K. Rowling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, it stars Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger as the perfect pair of leads, both as complicated as they are charming. Moreover, the slow burn romance between the two only increases the draw of the series.
3 Unforgotten (2015 – Present)
In Unforgotten, two London detectives, Cassie Stuart and Sunny Khan, dig out long-closed cold cases, starting with just a name on an unidentified body and a series of clips showing various characters going about their day. Piece by piece, at a pace that is deliberately slow, the pair’s investigations bring to surface secrets and shattering truths that were buried a long time ago. Along the way, friendships are tested and alibis are destroyed.
Past and Present Puzzle Together Quite Perfectly
Unforgotten has both aspects of the genre — procedural intrigue and sharp character studies. With its poignant blend, it grips you with emotions like grief, tragedy, shock, anger, and woe. Over the course of every season, you realize just how one person has been interconnected to the other this entire time, and the closure they get is simply sublime. Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar are among UK television’s finest detectives.
2 Luther (2010 – 2019)
The protagonist of this psychological crime thriller, DCI John Luther, is a driven but tormented detective who walks the line between solving both crimes and criminals. Obsessed with getting into the minds of murderers, Luther ends up putting a lot at stake each time.
His unorthodox methods often ruffle feathers, but because they get results, his colleagues are forced to keep up. Meanwhile, the burden of his fraying personal life consumes his every waking moment.
Idris Elba Owned This Torchlit Role
Distinctly popular for starring Idris Elba in what can only be defined as one of TV’s most intense and realistic performances ever, Luther is an unpredictable story about how terrifying humanity can be at extremes.
Across its five-season run, the show transformed into a visionary thriller pulsating with life, all playing out against the backdrop of London. Beyond focusing on the crimes itself, the show also portrays the highs and lows of the demanding job.
1 Sherlock (2010 – 2017)
This BBC One original is a modern adaptation of the legendary private detective Sherlock Holmes and his partner Dr. John Watson solving Britain’s most confounding cases. With just four three-part series and 13 episodes, the show follows events like missing heiresses and serial suicides. As Holmes’ brilliant deductions and cold logical thinking impresses and frustrates everyone, the duo wage a modern war on criminal networks within London. And it all leads to one ultimate enemy — Jim Moriarty.
An Epic Modern Twist on a Classic Detective
Created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, Sherlock is perhaps the best adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic character and detective stories. With its slick and seamless cinematography, it redefined the crime drama genre for a new generation.
It goes without saying that no one could have inhabited Holmes quite like Benedict Cumberbatch. Starring Martin Freeman as his counterpart and Andrew Scott as the villain, the series is gripping, clever, and even at times, surprisingly humorous.
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