Why The Pinkertons Is A Must For Sofa Sleuths

Calling all fans of Ripper Street, Murdoch Mysteries and Doctor Blake – prepare a place on the sofa, because you’re about to get hooked on The Pinkertons. Here’s why…

Why You Should Be Watching The Pinkertons


It may be set in a world of shadowy saloons, sprawling plains and wooden houses with picturesque porches, but don't be fooled: The Pinkertons isn't some gritty Western. It's a classic, straight-up detective series which just happens to take place against the backdrop of 1860s Kansas City.

True, there are horses wherever you look, not to mention the occasional whisky-soaked Civil War veteran and spectacular train robbery, but each episode is essentially a delicately crafted whodunit, complete with delicious twists, a dry sense of humour, and a range of suspects with secrets you'll want to second-guess.


And we mean that very literally. When it comes to exploring the early days of forensic science, The Pinkertons gives Murdoch Mysteries a run for its money. It's worth pointing out that The Pinkertons is actually set decades before the adventures of the dashing Detective Murdoch, so we get to see the very earliest moments of the forensics revolution.

Pinkerton agent Kate Warne is our resident science boffin, setting up a makeshift laboratory in her home and using a goody bag of chemicals to test for invisible traces of blood at crime scenes, while everybody else makes "Huh?" faces. In fact, police work in general is so primitive in The Pinkertons that even the concept of a suspect line-up has the local sheriff scratching his head in bafflement. ("It's an English invention. That explains a lot.")


From dramas to comedies, a lot of shows these days have vast, complex story arcs that run throughout whole seasons. Sometimes they're satisfying to follow, sometimes they're a niggling distraction from the action of each episode. Being a proper, old school detective show, The Pinkertons doesn't faff about too much with long over-arching storylines, so you get your detective drama fix without having to remember minor plot-points from three episodes back.

Of course, there are some running themes - the show is set in the aftermath of the US Civil War which is mentioned a fair bit. There's also the on-off presence of Allan Pinkerton, the boss of our main detectives, who's absent for some episodes and then suddenly swoops in when you least expect it. But generally this is all about the individual cases, to be savoured in self-contained episodes.


The best detective shows feature a good double-act, and The Pinkertons actually goes one better and gives us a triple-act in the crime-solving trio of Allan Pinkerton, Will Pinkerton and Kate Warne. That said, the real focus is on Will and Kate, whose working relationship gets off to a fine, bickering start (he's stunned at the very concept of a female detective, she later elbows him in the nose).

The frisson between Will and Kate is a nice little garnish to proceedings, but - and this is interesting - the show doesn't overplay the romantic vibe too much. We can't totally tell whether they're actually flirting or if they're more like buddies trying to outdo each other. And then of course there's the on-going electricity between Will Pinkerton and local saloon keeper Annalee...


While it's not as dark in tone, The Pinkertons has a few things in common with Ripper Street. After all, they're both 19th Century whodunits, and Homer Jackson in Ripper Street is of course a Pinkerton agent. Plus - and this is something very few detective shows can boast about - the sleuths in both Ripper Street and The Pinkertons are based on people who existed in real-life.

The real Allan Pinkerton was one of the most charismatic characters of the 19th Century. He saved Lincoln's life, pursued outlaws like Jesse James, and inspired the creation of the FBI. His son Will really was a Pinkerton agent, and Kate Warne was a pioneering female detective with a talent for going undercover to root out the villains. Which is worth bearing in mind if you're surprised that a young woman of that era really was able to call the shots and take down bad guys. Kate Warne did it.

Watch The Pinkertons Sundays at 8pm on Drama.