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 amusingly loutish D.S. Gavin Troy (Daniel Casey) 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.
Set Seven includes four titles. In the first, “The Green Man,” Joyce and Cully have volunteered to help in a restoration—when a tunnel collapse briefly traps Joyce and also reveals a chamber containing a number of skeletons. While Barnaby investigates, his associate Gavin Troy is called upon to investigate an assault on a homeless man, and the case soon twists into a double murder. The episode is particularly noteworthy because it marks the last appearance of Daniel Casey as Gavin Troy, for the character is promoted to the rank of Inspector and transferred out area. He is replaced by Dan Scott (John Hopkins), a transfer from London who is suave, charming, cynical, and more socially sophisticated—and who is not happy about his transfer to the countryside. He nonetheless comes around and soon proves an able assistant. In Bad Tidings, a “Spanish Night” party ends with the murder of one of the participants, and in “Sins of Commission” a local literary festival and competition is almost derailed when several people associated with the event meet a sticky end. The most bizarre—and my favorite—episode in the collection is “The Fisher King,” in which a writer-researcher with a penchant for mystical silliness is determined to hold a summer solstice celebration at an ancient barrow, and never mind the recent murder of his so-called cousin with a weapon that may have been stolen from the site decades ago.
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 In Memory of Ivan, feline companion of twenty years