"Die Kinder" may be the thriller of the television year.
The first episode of the six-part film about 1960s European radicals living in today's "new Germany" hooks you fast and never lets go. It has characters, performances and a plot that could have come from Alfred Hitchcock, had he lived to see Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Tonight's hour, which begins at 9 on MPT (Channels 22 and 67), opens with a mother taking her two children -- a girl, 9, and a boy, 5 -- to school in London.
When the mother, Sidonie Reiger (Miranda Richardson), returns to pick the children up, she finds they have disappeared. Their father, her estranged husband, has abducted them. She is British. He is German. She fears he has taken the children to Hamburg.
Ms. Reiger goes to the police, but they do not appear to be much help. She and her husband were radicals in the 1960s and '70s. He is linked to an act of terrorism in 1970, and the police seem to be more interested in what he might be up to politically than in helping her.
Eventually, she winds up in Hamburg, asking a private detective named Lomax (Frederic Forrest) to help her. Lomax does not appear altogether trustworthy himself. It is classic heroine-in-danger stuff, the woman aligning herself with a guy we are not sure of because she is in such dire straits.
And what a pair they are -- two emotionally battered people trying not to let their pasts overwhelm their lives today. But the shadows of their past lives are long ones.
Tonight's installment ends with her walking out on Lomax when he names his price. She will be back.
And so will most viewers for the next five Thursdays, for the rest of this latest series of PBS' "Mystery!" "Die Kinder" is the kind of thriller it's impossible to walk away from.