Elegant country estates and picturesque cottages hide dastardly activities in England’s Midsomer County, where corpses seem to stack like kindling, murders are often remarkably grotesque, and motives range from bizarre to out-and-out kinky. Based on novels and characters created by Caroline Graham and debuting in 1997, the long-running BBC series MIDSOMER MURDERS features Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby (John Nettles), his slightly daffy wife Joyce (Jane Wymark), and their theatrically ambitious daughter Cully (Laura Howard.) Tom is assisted in his cases by the sleek and cynical D.S. Dan Scott (John Hopkins) and a number of medical men, most often the dryly comic Dr. Bullard (Barry Johnson.) The repeating characters are often supported by luminaires from the British stage, screen, and television, and the scripts are memorable for their dark wit—but in spite of the humor, episodes often include a strange sense of tragedy. Although the central characters sometimes have overarching storylines, each episode stands alone, a complete story told in about an hour and forty minutes.
Two sets are identified as “Eight.” One set contains three titles: “The Maid in Splendor,” “The Straw Woman,” and “Ghosts of Christmas Past.” This set, however, contains eight titles. “Things That Go Bump In the Night” opens with the murder of an undertaker and soon segues into a spiritualist group that has roused ire in the community. “Dead in the Water” finds the Barnaby family attending a regatta—and quite naturally a body turns up the river. “Orchis Fatalis” is a story of orchid smuggling that unleashes a series of murders, and “Bantling Boy” offers a particularly grotesque solution to a series of murders surrounding a thoroughbred racing horse.
Many of the Midsomer Murders have an otherworldly edge, but few so much as “Second Sight,” wherein Barnaby and Scott are called upon to investigate deaths in a village known for residents of psychic ability. And while many of the Midsomer Murders have bizarre methods of murder, few can compete with “Hidden Depths,” a darkly witty tale that includes death via catapulted wine bottle. “Sauce for the Goose” finds Barnaby and Scott investing the death of a young man in a food factor, and “Midsomer Rhapsody” involves forgery, theft, and murder surround the estate of a late composer.
In addition to memorable performances, great scripts, and first rate production values, MIDSOMER MURDERS also has an intriguing score and makes effective, often paranoia-inducing, use of prowling cameras that sometimes take the killer’s point of view. And it is the rare episode that stops at one or murders. Three is commonplace, four is not exactly unknow, and fans of the “cozy” genre may well find the series a bit too disturbing for their tastes. But if you like a good murder mystery, you’ll find it in this series. It’s immediately addictive. Strongly recommended.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
For Bill Herndon, a treasured friend