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Peering deep into the shadows

David Oyelowo (with Sarah Smart) stars as the husband of a missing woman in 'Five Days.' David Oyelowo (with Sarah Smart) stars as the husband of a missing woman in "Five Days." (nick briggs)

"Five Days" is like a deluxe installment of "Without a Trace." The miniseries is five hours long - one hour a week through the end of October - and so it's able to go five times as deep into the mystery of a missing mother of three. It has all the detail, and all the character depth, that an hourlong TV procedural can't possibly muster.

A co-production by HBO and the BBC, the miniseries also features a remarkably strong cast, including David Oyelowo, who was so inspired as Orlando in HBO's "As You Like It." Oyelowo plays the bereft husband, who comes under suspicion at one point, with a riveting stillness. Janet McTeer also stands out, as one of the detectives on the case, a lonely cop close to retirement - like Helen Mirren in "Prime Suspect," and yet distinctive, too. "Five Days," which begins tonight at 8 on HBO, has the time to explore not only the extended family of the missing woman, including her three children, but the cops, reporters, and suspects who are pulled into the grim case.

Each episode is set during a different 24-hour period, beginning with the day Leanne Wellings (Christine Tremarco) seems to vanish into thin air. She pulls her car off the highway to buy flowers from a truck, leaving her two youngest kids and their new dog in the car. Moments later, she - and the flower truck - are gone. A bouquet of white flowers is left, on the road. At moments, "Five Days" recalls the chilling darkness of the "The Vanishing" from 1988, one of the most disturbing missing-person movies ever. But "Five Days" is a more epic story than "The Vanishing," with a far more complicated and twisty narrative.

The closed-circuit TV cameras all over the British highway system play a role in helping the detectives figure out what happened to Leanne, and where her children went. But the solutions in "Five Days" emerge gradually, and there are character revelations along the way to the last hour. Some of the detours en route to the finish line aren't necessarily relevant to the crime plot, and there are coincidences and developments that strain credulity. Written by Gwyneth Hughes, the script perhaps reaches too far and falls short. The whole is somehow less than the sum of its parts. And yet "Five Days" rewards with enough gripping moments to make it worth investigating.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit boston.com/ae/tv/blog/.

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Five Days

Starring: Janet McTeer, David Oyelowo, Sarah Smart, Patrick Malahide, Hugh Bonneville

On: HBO

Time: Tonight, 8-9

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