Tuesday, February 25, 2014

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

Monday, February 24, 2014

DSC James Langton and DI Anna Travis are back again investigating a murder in Above Suspicion 3.  Their last case ended on a bad note, with a suspected drug dealer escaping justice.  The higher-ups in the police force were looking for a scapegoat, and they seemed to suspect that DSC Langton was the one at fault.  His expected promotion to Commander has been set aside, and Sam Power (who wasn't even seeking the promotion) was given that position instead.

So when popular young actress Amanda Delany is found stabbed to death, Langton is put in charge of the investigation.  In addition to solving the murder, he also has another objective:  to find out which of his colleagues put the blame for the earlier failed investigation on him.

Amanda Delany seemed to be living a life that many would envy:  she was young, beautiful, successful and admired for her many film roles.  However, her life was anything but happy.  When she was found murdered, the autopsy revealed that she was suffering from anorexia, abused drugs, had numerous scars from self-harming, and that she'd already had a total hysterectomy at the age of 24.  As the team begins investigating her murder, they find no shortage of possible reasons someone might have wanted her dead.

Amanda had a habit of having short-lived affairs with her male (and usually married) co-stars.  Her ex-roommate blamed Amanda for stealing roles and ruining her own acting career.  Amanda was involved in the drug scene, and several of her acquaintances also end up dead in drug-related circumstances.  Finally, Amanda had been in contact with a publisher about writing a tell-all autobiography which would "name names" and make a fortune.  Did someone not want their secret to be revealed?

As Langton works on solving the case, he feels more pressure than usual to get a quick result.  It's been implied that if he solves the case quickly, he might eventually get that promotion to Commander after all.  At the same time, DI Anna Travis has been told she's on the "fast track" for a promotion.  Her own determination to get answers without always following protocol will put her in personal and professional peril.

Above Suspicion was written by Lynda La Plante, most famous for the long-running Prime Suspect series starring Helen Mirren.  This series also stars a woman who is working in a male-dominated police force (although things are vastly improved from Jane Tennyson's day!), yet trying to make her way up through the ranks by determination and hard work.  Anna Travis also has something of a soft spot for her superior, DCS Langton, so it remains to be seen how their personal and professional relationship will develop.

This series takes place over 3 episodes.  The disc also includes many extras, such as interviews with the main cast, guest cast, writer, director and producers.  It's very interesting to get such a thorough behind the scenes look at the production and how many people are involved in it!  At one point it was mentioned that at least 2 more series have been written, so we can look forward to more visits with Langton and Anna!

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Above Suspicion 3 from Acorn Media in exchange for this review

Final Verdict for Above Suspicion 3:Four Gherkins, for being a thrilling look at the personal and professional motivations of some driven detectives

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The year is 1831 and the country of Australia is slowly coming into its own after having served as the transportation destination for those in England and Ireland who have ended up on the wrong side of the law.  This is the setting for Under Capricorn, a 2-part series first broadcast in 1983. 

The governor of New South Wales is anxious to welcome his cousin, the young Charles Adare, who arrives eager to quickly make his fortune.  Charles is willing to entertain any idea that might help him to achieve his goal.  He meets wealthy landowner Samson Flusky, who offers him a business proposal.  Flusky already owns a great deal of land -- so much so that the authorities don't want him to purchase more.  They want everyone to have a fair chance to become landowners, since the earlier practice of land grants has ended.  Flusky asks Adare to purchase land for him so that it appears Adare will be the owner.  Of course, Adare will be compensated for his part in the scheme. 

One evening, Flusky invites Charles and many of the leaders of local society to his house for a dinner party.  Once they arrive, it soon becomes apparent that only the men have accepted the invitation -- none of their wives wanted to attend.  The reason is soon revealed:  Flusky's wife, Hattie, is an out of control alcoholic.  She's beautiful but unbalanced, and during the dinner, she makes a disheveled appearance before the horrified guests.  She sits next to the kindly Charles, and it soon emerges that they are from the same town in Ireland, and that she was a good friend of one of his sisters.  Hattie, or "Lady Harriet" as her husband insists she be called, was the daughter of an earl who ran away with Flusky, the groom.  When he was transported for the murder of her brother, she followed him to Australia.  Now she spends her days in a drunken haze.  She's aided in her addiction by the scheming maid Milly, who supplies her mistress with alcohol and gives her "doses" of her "medicine."

Charles eventually grows so close to the Fluskys that he moves in with them.  He begins to spend more time with Harriet, and determines to help her break her addiction to alcohol.  He insists that she take over the running of her own household.  When Milly balks at having some of her power taken away, she is dismissed.  Hattie regains her beauty and self-control, and rejoins society.  Unfortunately, Flusky has begun to suspect that there is something other than friendship going on between his wife and young Charles.

An aboriginal man living near Flusky's house reports that he's discovered gold at a remote riverside.  Charles becomes obsessed with the idea of a huge gold find, and asks Flusky to advance him the money to go prospecting, with the promise to give Flusky a cut of the proceeds.  Hattie is adamantly opposed to the idea, believing the aboriginal man to be untrustworthy.  She believes Charles will die in the desert. Flusky, seeing an opportunity to break up his wife's relationship, agrees to finance the venture. Before Charles leaves, he meets a young girl at a dance and flirts with her.

Part two begins 5 months after Charles has left on his gold finding expedition.  There has been no word from him since he left, and Hattie has become convinced that he's dead.  She has fallen back into alcoholism, so when the scheming Milly writes a letter asking to come back to her job, Flusky re-hires her.  Another servant, Winter, was given a letter from Charles before he left, and he passes this along to Harriet.  In the letter, he asks her to look after Susan, the girl from the dance.  Seeing a way to have some connection with Charles, Harriet goes to town and finds Sue at her father's barbershop.  Sue agrees to come back to Hattie's house for a visit.  Milly doesn't want any meddling in her scheme to destroy Hattie so that she, Milly, can marry Flusky herself.  Sue, however, isn't one to overlook injustice or do as she's told.  She and Milly clash, but she has an improving influence on Hattie, who once again starts to take an interest in the outside world.

They eventually find out that Flusky has received a letter saying Charles is alive, and making his way back.  Sue and Hattie are both angry at others for keeping secrets from them.  When Charles returns, the secrets that everyone has been keeping are brought out into the open.  It turns out that both Hattie and Flusky have believed things about each other that weren't true.  Neither was able to confront the other, and this lack of openness nearly destroyed them.

Like Downton Abbey, a scheming servant is actually running the show, using her own motives to justify destructive behavior -- all the while claiming to be a "good Christian woman."  It was enjoyable to see the interactions between the newly transported, who mostly worked as servants, and those who had been there a while and had been able to build up respectable lives.  One odd thing was that when scenes of bustling town life were shown, there were always a few aboriginal people leaning against a post or sitting on the steps.  No one paid any attention to them, but their inactivity was in stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of everyone else around them.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Under Capricorn from Acorn Media in exchange for this review.

Final Verdict for Under Capricorn Four Gherkins, for being a revealing look at a star-crossed relationship in the early days of the outback

Saturday, February 22, 2014

People today who need to figure out the best way to remove a stain from a carpet or cure a case of hiccups need only consult the many oracles of the Internet to find a variety of solutions.  Well-born ladies of an earlier age lacked such an advanced resource, but they did have access to the wisdom passed down through Household Books. These books were carefully gathered collections of the best remedies, recipes, advice and suggestions that 18th century society ladies shared with one another.  The beautiful and fascinating new book M'Lady's Book of Household Secrets: Recipes, Remedies and Essential Etiquette compiles some of these collections of historical wisdom into one volume.

The information contained in this book comes from two books kept by real aristocratic ladies:  Lady Talbot of Lacock Abbey and Lady Louisa Conolly of Castletown House. There is also a section describing the duties that servants were expected to carry out in the stately Weddington Castle (as well as useful guidelines as to suitable ages for each position).  Author Sarah Macpherson also includes some beautiful color illustrations of plants and handwritten notes that were included in the original documents.

The book is divided into chapters covering Herbal Remedies (and their preparations), Household Maintenance, M'Lady's Garden, Servants, and Food and Cookery.   The Herbal Remedies section contaisns recipes and instructions for relieving a variety of ailments such as dropsy, insomnia and depression.  There are also remedies for more delicate problems, such as overcoming shyness or "removing inhibitions."  Many of the ingredients for the potions would be easily found in the garden (although they might require labor-intensive chopping, infusing and straining before they were ready to be used), but I do wonder how people without a Boots (or Walgreens for us in the US) on every corner obtained such exotic-sounding ingredients as myrrh, avocado oil and ambergris.

Many of the suggestions would be useful today, but there are some chores that have thankfully been lost to the passage of time -- such as the instruction on how to clean armour, including helpful hints on how to remove stubborn swords from their sheaths. 

I've never had much luck as a gardener, but perhaps I've discovered a clue as to why that is.  The section on M'Lady's Garden includes the following warning on planting herbs:  "Do not use the left hand, or the devil's work will ensue, for herbs have mystical properties."  So that's the problem!  This section also includes very prettily drawn layouts for herb gardens, including a suggestion of all the herbs that the well-stocked kitchen would have needed.  There is also a section describing what herbs and vegetables should be planted together, both to improve flavors of each and to discourage pests.

Many of the recipes in the food section sound delicious and I might give the Pea Soup and the Herb Omelette a try.  The Stewed Carp, with its somewhat alarming ingredient of gently simmered "blood of carp" might best be left to the dusty cookbooks of history, though!

The book is lavishly illustrated throughout with beautiful black and white drawings, in addition to the colorful plates in the middle of the book.  I really enjoyed this peek into the daily domestic lives of 18th century ladies.  Much of the advice in the book would still be useful today, I'm sure, if anyone wanted to invest the time into gathering and creating the preparations!

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of M'Lady's Book of Household Secrets from Independent Publisher's Group in exchange for this review

Final Verdict for M'Lady's Book of Household Secrets Five Gherkins, for being a beautiful and practical little guide packed with useful advice for household management

Friday, February 21, 2014

Those of us who love British costume dramas always imagine ourselves in the gorgeous stately homes, chatting with Dukes and Countesses, dressed in the height of fashion and dripping with jewels.  Shows such as Downton Abbey are so popular because while they show plenty of that sort of thing, we also get a glimpse behind the scenes to see all the effort it takes to keep such a huge place running so smoothly.  The new book Diamonds at Dinner is a memoir by 98 year old Hilda Newman, who actually worked in a stately home between the wars as a lady's maid.

The first half of the book discusses Hilda's early life in the town of Stamford, which she describes as being "slap bang in the middle of England."  Her father was actually fighting in World War I when she was born in 1916, but he returned home from the war without any physical disabilities.  Unfortunately, he returned home to a country that had been changed forever.  Unemployment was rampant, and he was no longer able to work in engineering field for which he had been trained.  He set up a shoe cleaning and repair shop at home, and even worked at a nearby hotel shining shoes when necessary.  It's really fascinating to read Hilda's descriptions of her life in a working class family in the 1920s and 1930s.  She vividly describes what life was like before houses had electricity, indoor plumbing and refrigeration.  Her parents are "respectable poor" -- hardworking people who wouldn't dream of ever straying outside the carefully defined rules that society set out for them. 

This is in contrast to the aristocratic family she would eventually work for.  The Earl and Countess of Coventry lived in the stately Croome Court.  When Hilda got her job at the house in 1925, she was working for the 10th Earl.  His family had a colorful past, especially in the 19th century.   There were scandalous elopements, illegitimate children, bankruptcies, gambling debts, and "airing of the family's dirty laundry" in public newspapers.  Hilda contrasts this shocking and immoral behavior of people deemed "her betters" with the difficult but admirable lives of her parents.

Children left school at age 14, and Hilda was apprenticed to a dressmaker.  She had just finished her apprenticeship and was ready to start work, when her employer died.  There were no jobs in the tailoring field available, so she took what job she could get, in the hotel laundry.  This job quickly lost its charm, so she was excited when a co-worker told her about an opening for a lady's maid.  Hilda applied, was accepted, and then had to convince her father to allow her to take the job.  When she arrived at Croome Court, a day's journey by train from her little village, Hilda quickly felt out of her depth.  Not only had she never seen such a large house before, but the inner hierarchies of staff and the endless corridors quickly had her regretting her decision to leave home.

Her duties are described to her on the first day: she is to look after "milady's" clothes, lay them out for her each day, brush her hair for an hour and a half each day, keep her jewelry cleaned and safe, and whatever other whims took her fancy.  Hilda was also quickly to learn that there was a strict social hierarchy "below stairs" that mirrored that of society in general. It was interesting that Hilda, the housekeeper, governess and butler were "head servants" and therefore superior to the rest of the staff.  While she would have liked to make friends with some of the lower staff members, it just wasn't permitted.  This strict division created even more difficulties when she and the chauffeur, Ronald, began "courting."

Hilda only worked as a lady's maid for 5 years, when the outbreak of World War II forever changed the old social hierarchies.  Both Hilda and the Countess enlisted in the Auxiliary Territorial Services, the women's branch of service.  The Countess had fully expected that Hilda would be her "batsman" and continue serving her, even though there was a war on.  The War Department had other ideas, however . . .

I greatly enjoyed reading about the colorful and exciting life that Hilda had.  She really draws the reader into her world.  It's so enlightening to read about life in Britain between the wars, and get a first-hand glimpse of bygone traditions, such as life in service.  Hilda really contrasts the hard, but happier life of her early days with the more permissive times of today, when people lack a sense of place and community.  I'm thrilled that I got to spend some time in her world!  Fans of Downton Abbey will notice lots of little touches that appear in the show (ironing newspapers, for instance).

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Diamonds at Dinner from Independent Publishers Group in exchange for this review

Final Verdict for Diamonds at Dinner Four Gherkins, for being a captivating look at life in a bygone era

Thursday, February 13, 2014

I'm always interested to read books set in London, and Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty sounded intriguing.  The story begins with Yvonne Carmichael and her unnamed lover on trial for some offense which sounds pretty serious.  The opening scene takes place when Yvonne is on the stand being questioned and realizes that the court case is taking a turn for the worse.
The story then moves back so that we learn more about Yvonne.  She is in her early 50s and one of the most respected genetic scientists in the world.  She is in demand as a speaker and consultant and enjoys her status.  Her husband, Guy, is also an academic, but they are more acquaintances than husband and wife.  They have no real romantic relationship any more, but this doesn't really seem to bother either of them.  Their two children are grown and out of the house, although son Adam struggles with mental illness and isn't often in contact with his parents.
Everything is going alone fine until one day Yvonne begins an affair with an unnamed man.  He initiates contact with her when she is making a presentation in front of a government committee.  His air of mystery, combined with his seemingly powerful job, leads Yvonne to behave in ways that she would never have imagined.  He remains enigmatic, giving her a secret phone, meeting her for public trysts and generally controlling the relationship, all while giving away little about himself.  Yvonne, who up until this point in her life has been the dutiful wife, mother and academic, is suddenly captivated by this secret affair.
One evening, after a public rendezvous with her lover, Yvonne is attacked by a colleague after a party.  She's completely traumatized, but she can't go to the police or report the incident to anyone for fear that her secret affair will be exposed.  Luckily, she does have her powerful and mysterious lover that she can turn to for help and advice . . .
The book is written in a really unusual format, with most of it being directed at the unknown lover.  Yvonne is narrating the book with frequent references to "you" and what "you" must have thought when such and such happened.  It was really rather annoying, but I give the author credit for trying something different!
I enjoyed following the story and trying to figure out what would happen next.  It takes quite a while for the events to come back around to the trial.  I was a bit annoyed that Yvonne, who was seemingly so intelligent, didn't question things a bit more.  Still, it was interesting to read about what happened in Apple Tree Yard and how it impacted several lives.
Final Verdict for Apple Tree Yard Three Gherkins, for being a shocking look at an affair gone terribly wrong

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Thank heavens, the good people of Midsomer are at it again -- killing each other, I mean! Even though they live in a beautiful area seemingly far from "big city" problems, there's never a shortage of recently dispatched bodies for DCI John Barnaby and DS Ben Jones to investigate.  This is certainly still the case in Midsomer Murders: Set 23.

This set includes three new mysteries which were originally broadcast in the UK in 2012-13.  All the familiar elements are there:  jealousy, greed, illicit affairs, etc. It's left to Barnaby and Jones to figure out which of the many suspects is lying and separate the multitude of motives into the one that eventually led to murder.

Dark Rider is the first story.  A headless rider on a gray horse means death for members of the
DeQuetteville family.  Family legend states that the rider is the ghost of ancestor Geoffrey DeQuetteville, and if he points at you, you don't have much time left on earth.  This understandably upsets Bentham DeQuetteville, who is woken up during a violent evening thunderstorm and decides that is the perfect time to go up on the roof to repair a flag that has come loose in the wind.  He looks over the edge, spots the horseman, and immediately falls to his death.  Unfortunately, his eccentric family provides plenty of suspects who might have wanted to frighten the old man to death.  There is also the feud the family has been having with the next door neighbors -- a feud that has extended for nearly 400 years.  When more family members meet their deaths after spotting the ghostly figure, Barnaby is faced with the task of hunting a killer that may have died centuries ago.

In Murder of Innocence, convicted killer Grady Felton returns to his hometown after being released from prison.  The people of the town haven't forgotten his crime, nor forgiven him.  He immediately becomes a target of threats and intimidation, mostly from the family of the person he was sent to prison for killing. The Denning family hasn't gotten over the death of their son Daniel, who was killed after supposedly confronting Grady about poaching on Denning land.  Grady only wants to sell his family cottage and get out of town, but no one is willing to cross the Dennings to do business with him.  Before he was released from prison, Grady Felton's "hit list" of people who were responsible for putting him in prison was discovered.  DS Ben Jones is one of the names on the list, leading Barnaby to become especially concerned when some of the people on the list die in unusual "accidents."  At the same time, Barnaby is being cajoled into getting in shape by his wife.  He has to pass a physical for the Chief Constable exam.  Jones is also going to be up for the exam, but he seems remarkably unconcerned about his fitness levels.  Must be due to the cute new female firefighter he's been seeing . . .

Not much excitement happens in the Midsomer area, so the locals are thrilled to attend the Stella Harris Film Festival in the final episode, Death and the Divas.  Stella is a local girl who starred in several 1960s horror films.  The audience watches one of her films and then Stella is introduced to the crowd.  As she approaches the microphone to speak, her comments are ignored because the crowd's attention is captured by a new arrival.  Her much more famous actress sister Diana Davenport has shown up.  Diana left the village for Hollywood nearly 40 years ago and hasn't looked back.  Barnaby is called away from the festival by the discovery of a body in a house nearby.  Eve Lomax was writing a book about the acting sisters, and it looks as if she's been bitten by a vampire -- eerily re-creating the scene from the movie just shown at the film festival.  As days pass, more people are killed in ways that seem to echo scenes from Stella's films.  Stella's career stalled just as Diana's took off, so it looks like someone is trying to get revenge for Stella.  At the same time, one of the suspects owns an organic farm and the hunky delivery man seems to be delivering more than vegetables to the lonely housewives of Midsomer County.  During the course of the investigation, we learn both that Barnaby is a fan of horror films -- while Sykes the dog decidedly is not!

The set also includes a fascinating "Behind the Scenes" feature about the making of the Death and the Divas episode.  The episode is meant as a homage to the 1960s British horror films that still have many devoted fans.  Two actors from that period, Caroline Munro and John Carson, appear in the horror films that are shown from that era.  It is also fascinating to get a look at some of the background elements of the series, including showing how fog is made!

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Midsomer Murders: Set 23 from Acorn Media in exchange for this review

Final Verdict for Midsomer Murders: Set 23 Four Gherkins, for being a welcome visit back to a beautiful county with an unusually high crime rate!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Although perhaps best known as the beloved Inspector Lewis, actor Kevin Whately has also starred in other detective series.  In The Broker's Man, he plays a former cop who now works as an investigator for insurance companies.  While he's a dogged investigator determined to get to the bottom of every case, his personal life gets much less attention from him.

As the series (originally broadcast in 1997) opens, Jimmy Griffin's life seems to be unraveling before him.  He's divorced from his wife and she's none too happy about his spotty child-support payments.  Griffin's investigatory work often takes him out of the country, and his payment for various jobs can be late or disappear altogether.  The Griffin's marriage fell apart when his wife, Sally, discovered he was having an affair with Gabby, who works at the big insurance agency that hires Jimmy to investigate before they pay out on claims.  Gabby is still around, which dampens Jimmy's efforts to get back together with his wife.  Sally also got the house in the divorce, so Jimmy lives on his boat.

Three episodes make up Series 1.  Double Dutch concerns the theft of a shipping container full of DAT tapes.  The thieves make contact and offer to sell the stolen tapes back for less than the insurance company would have to pay out for the loss.  Jimmy is hired as the go-between, dropping off the money in exchange for finding out where the tapes are being kept.  When you're dealing with ruthless criminals, however, not everything goes as planned.

The second episode, Dangerous Bends, finds Jimmy embroiled in several investigations at the same time.  Is the elderly lady really being truthful when she says she fell and was injured at the shopping mall?  It would probably be easier to believe her if she could remember in which mall she suffered the injury.  Then there's the case of the fatal motorbike-car collision, where the motorbike driver ran off after the accident.  Jimmy is trying to investigate those issues when he's hired "exclusively" to look into how a chemical company accidentally introduced a dangerous chemical into a town's water supply.  Not only does the accident seem fishy, but so does the willingness of the chemical company to accept blame.  At the same time, Griffin is dismayed when his 14 year old daughter begins dating a 17 year old boy. 

In Siege, the last episode of this series, Griffin once again has to juggle multiple personal and professional responsibilities.  Jimmy is investigating a car theft ring who steals cars from people who are in danger of  having them repossessed.  If the insurance company will pay for the stolen car, the delinquent owners will get some money out of the deal and avoid having a repossession on their credit history.  Many people are taking advantage of this kind offer, so Jimmy is trying to track down the gang.  Meanwhile, he jumps at the chance to go on vacation with his ex-wife and kids and "leave the job behind" for a few days.  Naturally, the jobs keep coming to him.  He's given the task of investigating the theft of two pistols in the same area he is vacationing in.  The son of the man who reported the pistols stolen denies any theft has occurred, but he does ask for Jimmy's help in tracking down an old acquaintance.  Unfortunately, the man's motives aren't as innocent as they appear.

Jimmy is ably assisted in his work by Harriet and Vinny, who put in long hours to do the legwork on the cases.  Vinny is an ex-cop who owes Jimmy, and Harriet seems to be married to the job (although she does keep an eye open for any hunky men she might encounter in the course of a case!).

I really enjoyed the interaction between Jimmy and his assistants, although the back and forth between his wife and former mistress is a bit of a strain.  There was a second series, so I'd love to see what happens with Jimmy's tangled personal and professional life!

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of The Broker's Man: Series 1 from Acorn Media in exchange for this review.

Final Verdict for The Broker's Man: Series 1 Three Gherkins, for being a look at the unusual work of insurance fraud investigation

About Me

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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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The Gherkin Scale

5gherkinsb Brilliant!

4gherkinsb Good, innit?

3gherkinsb Fair to middlin'

2gherkinsb Has some good points

1gherkin Oi! Wot you playin' at?

0gherkins3Don't be givin' me evils!

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