Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Odd, he usually only growls at policemen

Unfortunately, murders happen all over the world.  Fortunately for us, Agatha Christie's murder mysteries can be adapted using local characters and settings while keeping the Queen of Crime's basic outlines.  One such adaptation is the delightful series Les Petits Meurtres D'Agatha Christie, which features the French Superintendent Larosière solving crimes in 1930s France as well as Commissioner Laurence working on equally vexing cases in the 1950s.  This set features 7 full-length mysteries which originally aired in France between 2009 and 2012.

Episodes 1-6 star Antoine Duléry as the suave and charming Superintendent Larosière and Marius Colucci as the under appreciated Inspector Lampion.  Episode One is Les Meurtres ABC (based on "The ABC Murders").  A ceremony to give Larosière an award is interrupted by the news of a murder.  A young woman is found dead on a beach, but this is only the beginning.  Soon Larosière begins to receive letters announcing where the next murder will take place.  The victim's names and towns all begin with the same letters, and an ABC bus timetable is found at the site of all the murders.  Young Inspector Duval is sent to investigate the murders, leading Larosière to contemplate handing in his notice.  Unluckily for the murderer, Lampion is able to talk him out of such drastic action.

Note the photo on the wall of the great Christie herself!
The second episode, Am Stram Gram is based on the Christie novel "Ordeal by Innocence."  This one shows Christie's knack for gathering a group of suspects in a lovely, upper class setting, and watching as the master detective attempts to sort out the various lies and motives.  In this instance, a wealthy woman has been killed in her home.  Unable to have children of her own, she had adopted many children who had previously been living in terrible circumstances.  Rather than being grateful for their rescue, all of the children have grown up resentful, and to varying degrees, angry at their mother.  Did one of them hate her enough to hit her over the head with the fireplace poker?  One of the children eventually was convicted of the murder, but now a new alibi witness has come forward . . .

"Peril at End House" was the inspiration for episode three.  Larosière gets personally involved in this case when he falls for the beautiful designer who is in danger.  During a stroll on the beach while on vacation, Larosière meets the beautiful Josephine.  As in the previous episode, this character also has a houseful of relatives and guests.  She introduces them all to Larosière, and then invites him back to the house.  While there, Josephine narrowly escapes being killed when a large decorative lantern crashes to the ground in front of her.  There are other unsuccessful attempts on her life, until one night her cousin Eleonore is shot and killed while wearing Josephine's shawl.  Was it a case of mistaken identity? Larosière must figure out what is going on before the woman he's fallen in love with becomes the next victim.

A girl's boarding school is the setting for the story based on "Cat Among the Pigeons" and so there are a huge number of potential suspects (and victims!) among the students and instructors.  A woman is found buried in the woods on the school grounds, and while this doesn't seem to have anything to do with the school, it's still unsettling.  Poor Lampion is really tested in this episode, as he's ordered to attend the autopsy of the dead woman.  He also gets into some hot water with one of the students at the school.  The lovely princess of Turkestan arrives at the school after the assassination of her father in their homeland, and there is some suspicion that the deaths (for of course, more follow the first one!) might be related to the turmoil in that far-off land.  Larosière's past also comes back to haunt him, as he discovers a former love is employed at the school.

 Poor Lampion once again is put to the test in episode five, based on "Sad Cypress."  His old friend Louis comes and asks him to investigate a situation involving his employer.  Anonymous letters have started showing up hinting that someone is going to be murdered.  The employer is an older, wheelchair-bound lady who has suddenly become dedicated to the suffragette movement.  She is going to be hosting a feminist retreat at her house, and the keynote speaker, author of the renowned book "The Oppressed Sex" has had to cancel.  Larosière sees an excellent opportunity for himself and Lampion to go undercover and sort out the situation.  Of course, he, Larosière, will go as the husband, so that leaves only one role for Lampion.  On the evening before the big event, there is a murder and it's up to the undercover couple to figure out what happened before more people are killed.

"The Body in the Library" is the basis for the final episode featuring Larosière and Lampion.  Rather than a library, this episode concerns a body found in Larosière's bed -- that of a strangled prostitute. Unfortunately, he had been drinking heavily the night before and has no idea how the dead woman wound up in his bed, or if he was responsible for killing her.  Since Larosière is directly involved in the case, he cannot investigate, so Superintendent Deville is brought in.  He has no problem believing Larosière is responsible, and orders him arrested.  It's up to Lampion to investigate the case, since Deville does all of his "investigating" on the golf course.  Making the case even more perplexing is the disappearance of a farm girl on the same evening as the murder of the prostitute.  Can the cases be linked?

Episode Seven jumps ahead 20 years to the 1950s, but the location is once again a country estate full of suspects.  "They Do It With Mirrors" forms the basis for this story, which begins with the murder of one of the residents of the Helping Hand Center.  This institution was formed by Etienne Bousquet and his wife Rose-Marie on the grounds of her large estate.  They take in young men who are either in trouble with the legal system or are otherwise unable to care for themselves.  One of the men is found dead and sent to investigate is Superintendent Laurence (Samuel Labarthe), newly on the job.  He drives a sporty red car, and otherwise attracts female attention as a stylish, sophisticated presence. Soon there is another murder at the house. The case also comes to the attention of reporter Alice Avril, played by Blandine Bellavoir. She's been stuck writing the "Agony Aunt" column for the local newspaper, but yearns to be a real journalist.  She gets an undercover job as a maid at the house, and strikes a deal with Laurence to share information about the case -- with the understanding she won't write about the case until after it's solved.  Alice becomes convinced Laurence isn't sharing everything he knows, so she decides to trap the killer herself.

The episodes featuring Larosière and Lampion are quite funny due to the relationship between the two characters.  Larosière is something of a dictator, always ordering Lampion to do the distasteful or embarrassing jobs, while at the same time showing loyalty to his hard-working underling.  Lampion gamely follows the instructions of the boss, all the while negotiating his own personal difficulties.  In the one episode where we meet Laurence and Avril, they do seem to have some chemistry.  I see that they were paired for a further four episodes, so it would be interesting to see how their relationship develops.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Les Petits Meurtres D'Agatha Christie from Acorn Media in exchange for this review

Final Verdict for Les Petits Meurtres D'Agatha Christie: Four Gherkins, for being an entertaining look at the French take on the Queen of Crime

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