There was one sort of taboo which writers of television crime dramas rarely broke, and that was to focus the plot on the abuse or killing of children. Instead they preferred to thrill the viewers with what film censors call “scenes of peril” usually involving the murder, or lurid torture-and-murder, of women.

That was considered shocking enough. But now, presumably, audiences’ appetites are dulled by repeated exposure, and need ever more extreme stimulation. Added to this, there are many more channels, offering more outré fare, with intellectually challenging plots and edgier or more “transgressive” ideas.

So for the past couple of years the recurrent theme in television suspense series has been missing children, and since there is no longer a requirement for a happy ending, they may have been murdered as well, or subjected to unspeakable horrors.

On ITV we’ve just had Marcella, starring Anna Friel as an unstable police detective investigating children who are found with mysterious wooden discs stitched into their stomachs. Before that there was Kiri, with Sarah Lancashire superb as a fag-puffing social worker who loses a child under her supervision.

There have been two series of The Missing and a new one from America (on the Universal channel) with the equally self-explanatory title Gone.

On Sky Atlantic you can watch Save Me, featuring Lennie James as an absent father who becomes obsessed with finding the missing child whom he never bothered with when she was around. It co-stars Suranne Jones from Doctor Foster, which was another family-destruction series. Save Me is bleak stuff, but it has been such a success that apparently a second series has already been commissioned.

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