The setting is small town Pennsylvania. A place where the English language is brutalised even further than small town, outback Australia. Here everyone knows everyone and there are secrets within secrets. Crime thriller ‘The Mare of Easttown’ exploits them all with a fine twist at the end.

Vaping, local detective Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet) leads the case to find what has happened to a series of disappearing young local women. She is in the mould of the tortured, tough detective whose own life is a mess, but who retains a keen eye for detail, a habit of skepticism, stubborn independence, and the capacity for compassion when the chips are down.

The early episodes set the scene and the plot takes a while to get going. But persist. When it does, it goes at one hell of a pace and there are some edge of the seat moments where it isn’t clear who is going to survive or where it will all land. And then just when you think it has, it hasn’t.

Sheehan is respected. She is good at sorting out burglaries and minor drug crimes. But  solving the disappearance of the daughter of a long time friend is going nowhere. The mother is desperate, angry and blaming the local police. Now another young women turns up dead and then a third one disappears. Under pressure the local police chief brings in out of town detective Colin Zable (Evan Peters)  to assist.

Sheehan and Zable form an unlikely couple. The hard bitten, difficult Sheehan and the younger, likeable but uncertain Zable. Sheehan is not happy. Her confidence is undermined and it takes a while for Zable to find his footing. None of this is helped by Sheehan’s personal demons.

At home Sheehan lives with her mother, her teenage daughter is about to go to college and then there is her grandson who comes with a custody battle, a legacy of her drug addicted son’s death. Her dates with a fading writer and college professor Richard (Guy Pearce) are about the only light in her dark tunnel.

Winselt’s performance is nuanced and riveting. She inhabits Sheehan’s character – the accent, the hardened demeanour, the idiosyncrasies. A mixture of anger, stubbornness and grief driven obsessively and sometimes destructively into her work.

Throw in Easttown as a central character. The small closed community with its little, rundown houses and grim grey skies drives the plot. This is a tough community in a tough town. Emotions are suppressed until they explode. Money is short.  Humour is harsh, although there are some very funny moments – there is a funeral scene not to be missed.

Knowing everyone in a local town has its has ups and downs. There are emotional and ethical conflicts everywhere for Sheehan as she negotiates her way through an ex partner, her best friend, the local church and her own family traumas.

This is a long way from Miss Marple and Miss Fisher.  More Bosch, Wallander and Cardinal, or Saga Noren in ‘The Bridge’.

As we have come to expect from HBO the production values are high, the screen play is tight and the acting is excellent. It is in the better class  noir crime thrillers. Up there with the best British and Scandinavian series.