What is Karen Pirie based on and where is it filmed? The new ITV crime drama starring Lauren Lyle

She's a Bacardi Breezer loving detective out to solve a cold case

Lauren Lyle as Karen Pirie in ITV's Karen Pirie
(Image credit: ITV/Future)

Outlander’s Lauren Lyle is taking on a very different challenge in this intriguing crime drama.

ITV is delivering a brand new crime drama that is set to keep viewers guessing from start to finish. Karen Pirie sees a young detective of the same name, tackling a 25-year old unsolved case. Teenager Rosie Duff was horribly murdered in the university town of St Andrews in 1996. Three students found at the crime scene were blamed, but never convicted when no forensic evidence was found. When a true-crime podcast covers the murder, revelations pique the interest of Karen Pirie as she starts to realise just how flawed the case is. The series follows her as she sets out to discover just what happened to Rosie Duff. Read on to find out everything you need to know about the show, including the inspiration behind it, and some key filming locations.

For viewers asking how many episodes of Karen Pirie are available and when to watch them on catch up, we've got you covered. For those who just can't wait to find out who killed Rosie Duff, the Karen Pirie ending explained reveals all - with major spoilers. 

What is Karen Pirie based on?

Karen Pirie is based on the Val McDermid book The Distant Echo, which is the first in her long-running Karen Pirie series.

First published in 2003, the novel became a number 1 bestseller. The official synopsis reads “On a freezing Fife morning four drunken students stumble upon the body of a woman in the snow. Rosie has been raped, stabbed and left for dead in an ancient Pictish cemetery. And the only suspects are the four young men now stained with her blood.

Twenty-five years later the police mount a ‘cold case’ review of Rosie’s unsolved murder and the four are still suspects. But when two of them die in suspicious circumstances, it seems that someone is pursuing their own brand of justice. For the remaining two there is only one way to avoid becoming the next victim – find out who really killed Rosie all those years ago…”

What order are the Karen Pirie books?

  • The Distant Echo (2003)
  • A Darker Domain (2008)
  • The Skeleton Road (2014)
  • Out of Bounds (2016)
  • Broken Ground (2018)
  • Still Life (2020)

Karen Pirie: Book to TV adaptation

The book has been adapted for screen by writer and actress Emer Kenny, who also stars in the show alongside Lauren Lyle. Speaking to BT,  Kenny said “I am so grateful to Val McDermid for lending me her brilliant characters, and beyond excited to work with the actors and Gareth Bryn to bring them to the screen”.

She continued “from the moment I read that Karen Pirie orders a Bacardi Breezer as her after-work drink (other brands of alcopop are available) I knew that she was the detective for me. “Val is the queen of crime for good reason and I’m honoured to be bringing her creation to a TV audience, especially for ITV which has been home to some of my favourite detective shows, from Broadchurch to Prime Suspect”.

The Distant Echo: Book 1 (Detective Karen Pirie) £10.07 | Amazon

The Distant Echo: Book 1 (Detective Karen Pirie) £10.07 | Amazon

Read the book by best selling crime author Val McDermid that inspired the new ITV crime drama Karen Pirie starring Lauren Lyle

In response, McDermid said: “I'm sure this adaptation will bring Karen many new fans as well as delighting her existing ones. “Karen and the Historic Cases Unit are in very safe hands!”

Where is Karen Pirie filmed? 

The entire series was shot on location in Scotland. Shooting took place at Deas Wharf, Kirkcaldy, St Andrews and the Cathedral and university, The Pends, Market Place, and Loch Lomond. Most interior scenes were shot in Glasgow.

Emer Kenny shared plenty of pictures from the show’s time filming in Scotland, to her Instagram account. One picture simply depicted night time filming, with lights presumably set up to point towards actors out of shot.

Another post she shared a picture of a very serene lake, with the caption “DEAR DIARY. It’s Day 43 out of…. 62? Or something? Scotland is beautiful except for the midges. Everything is going pretty well. I miss my mum”.

Karen Pirie: Release date 

Karen Pirie will be released on ITV on Sunday September 25, 2022 at 8pm. The first episode will be 2 hours long, finishing at 10pm. The remaining 2 episodes - also 2 hours in length - will air weekly.  All episodes will immediately be available on the ITV Hub after they’ve aired.

On the long episode length, executive producer Simon Heath told Virgin Media “The more we thought about it, the more we could see the benefits. The Distant Echo is a big book with a lot of story. With two timelines, plus the character dynamics and Karen’s relationships, it was difficult to see how all this could be accommodated in 47-minute episodes. The two-hour slot gave us enough screen time to cover all this and more”.

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Karen Pirie: Cast 

  • Lauren Lyle (Outlander) as DS Karen Pirie
  • Emer Kenny (Harlots) as River Wilde
  • Chris Jenks (Sex Education) as Jason ‘Mint’ Murray
  • Zach Wyatt (Urban myths) as DS Phil Parhatka
  • Michael Schaeffer (The Salisbury Poisonings) as Tom ‘Weird’ Mackie
  • Ariyon Bakare (Good Omens) as Alex Gilbey
  • Alex Newman (Unforgotten) as Sigmund ‘Ziggy’ Malkiewicz
  • Anna Russell-Martin (Ghost Light) as Rosie Duff
  • John Lumsden (Doctors) as young Sigmund ‘Ziggy’ Malkiewicz
  • Jack Hesketh (Beautiful Disaster) as young Tom ‘Weird’ Mackie
  • Buom Tihngang (Death In Paradise) as young Alex Gilbey

Speaking to BT, Lauren Lyle said "I am completely overjoyed to be bringing the formidable force that is DS Karen Pirie to life through Emer Kenny's slick adaptation. The world Emer has created using the backbone of Val McDermid's much loved books is electrifying and hooked me immediately".

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Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and moms.com. In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.