Monday, July 28, 2014

Once again, the beautiful setting of Midsomer County is home to some particularly vexing murders in Midsomer Murders Set 24.  Luckily, DCI John Barnaby and DS Ben Jones are still on the case, questioning witnesses and ferreting out the killers (while dealing with their own personal problems).  For those who need some relief from all the scheming, lying and suspicion, there's the always adorable Sykes the dog to entertain us!  As usual, he steals every scene he's in, and in one episode, even manages to insert himself into the investigation (although in a somewhat indirect manner!).

Written in the Stars takes place around the Moonstone Ridge heritage site.  Members of the local Astronomical Society, as well as faculty and students from the University of Midsomer's observatory and various locals (including local psychic Mystic Mags) have gathered to watch a solar eclipse.  Wouldn't you know it, just as the moon passes in front of the sun, a scream rings out and a body is discovered.  I guess the old superstition that eclipses are bad luck must be true!  The murder victim is Jeremy Harper, a member of the Astronomical Society and owner of a local tea room and museum.  He's also chair of the parish council and is strongly opposed to the university's plan to build a new observatory on the revered Moonstone Ridge site.  Jeremy's death isn't the only one that's happened on the ridge -- several years previously Jeremy's sister-in-law Mary was found dead there under mysterious circumstances.  Could the curse of Moonstone Ridge be
true? Soon the museum is burglarized, and the two items, an arrowhead and a bronze-age disc, are stolen and turned into murder weapons.  Mystic Mags is claiming to have predicted all the deaths (after the fact, of course), but will her prediction of romance for DS Jones come true?  Sykes the dog gets into the spirit of some "down dogs" while helping Sarah practice yoga (her husband Barnaby only uses yoga to fall asleep, a tactic I've been know to employ myself!).

The second episode, The Sicilian Defense, goes into the world of die-hard chess players.  During the Bishopwood Chess Tournament, rivalries of many types are exposed.  There's Alan Robson, who made a fortune on an early chess video game, but who's having trouble beating the young chess prodigy, Jamie.  Edward Stannington, the president of the Chess Society, is quick to rub in the embarrassing loss.  David Farmer, who's running the tournament, is still worried about his teenage daughter, Harriet.  Harriet was going to elope with her boyfriend Finn Robson (Alan's son), the previous year, but she was found injured in the woods behind her house, and Finn disappeared.  She's been in a coma ever since, unable to tell anyone what happened.  The tournament is taking place at the King's Gambit Hotel, which isn't doing too well financially.
Mr. Potts, the hotel's owner, is desperately trying to find people to invest in the hotel and save him from financial ruin, while his wife Caroline uses up precious resources by operating her own "meals on wheels" service for the elderly and infirm in the area.  Harriet finally wakes up, but members of the chess community start turning up dead.  More alarmingly, the deceased all have pieces of paper with some weird notations stuffed into their mouths.  Eventually, Barnaby discovers, these are moves from the famous "Sicilian Defense," used during a renowned chess match.  As Harriet's memory begins to return, it seems someone will do anything to keep the truth from being exposed.

Schooled in Murder begins with an appropriately stylish and saucy Martine McCutcheon storming into a meeting of parents and the headmistress of the prestigious Midsomer Pastures Preparatory School. It seems her character, Deborah Moffett, has received a letter stating that her daughter will not be welcome at the school the next term.  Someone has written an anonymous letter to the school authorities claiming Deborah's immoral behavior reflects poorly on the school.  Deborah flounces out of the meeting, but not before threatening to expose a few secrets.  Shortly afterward, she's killed when her skull crushed by a huge wedge of Midsomer Blue, the award-winning cheese (I hate it when that happens!).  It turns out the dairy responsible for producing the cheese and the school have an unusual link: the school must offer several free scholarships to students of dairy workers.  While investigating the murder, it transpires that many of these students get expelled every year.  The dairy turns out to be having problems.  The new owners, Greg and Hayley Branther, inherited the dairy from her family and moved to the area from London.  Hayley anticipated it would only be for 6 months, but that time is up and Greg shows no intention of wanting to leave.  In fact, he's working with a large conglomerate to purchase milk from them (rather than local small farmers) as well as "modernize" the production process (which will result in the loss of many jobs).   More deaths follow, all of them connected to both the dairy and the school in one way or another.  Which is the true source of the motive?  At the same time, a very spry-looking Sykes is taken along with Barnaby on all his cases.  While he was supposedly involved in a dog fight and needs looking-after, it would seem as if there might be other reasons that Barnaby doesn't want to let Sykes out of his sight . . .

This set contains three new mysteries that were originally broadcast in the UK in late 2012/early 2013.  Many famous faces (for fans of British TV) pop up, including the above-mentioned Martine McCutcheon (Eastenders' Tiffany -- she of the being run-down-in-the-street fame), Maggie Steed, Fay Ripley, Julie Graham and Cal Macaninch.  Even if you don't recognize the names, the faces will be familiar!  The final disk also contains a biography of Sykes the dog.  I only know his work from Midsomer Murders, but he's apparently a very talented and sought-after canine thespian!

Once again, the dedicated police officers and crime scene investigators use their considerable skills to sort out the guilty from the innocent.  The lovely scenery and eccentric locals help to give the series a pleasant feel -- even as the bodies pile up!

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Midsomer Murders: Set 24 from Acorn Media in exchange for this review.

Final Verdict for Midsomer Murders: Set 24: Five Gherkins, for being another welcome visit to the beautiful but dangerous Midsomer County


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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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