Wednesday, September 28, 2016

It must be something in the water

The water must be terribly tainted in Midsomer County.  How else to explain the incredibly high murder rate in such a beautiful and seemingly peaceful area?  At least the many murders keep DCI Tom Barnaby and his side-kicks DS Charlie Nelson and Dr. Kam Karimore busy.  Series 18 has just been released and is available from Acorn Media (as is all of the Midsomer Murders back catalog!).

Series 18 contains 6 brand new mysteries, as well as bonus material containing behind-the-scenes featurettes.  This series also introduces Dr. Kam Karimore as the hardworking pathologist who is called out to murder scenes and expected to instantly determine time and manner of death.  She remains remarkably cheerful and able to offer up extremely well-educated guesses to all the questions, so she quickly becomes an invaluable member of the team.  She and DS Nelson are both extremely competitive (in everything from pub quizzes to tennis to vying to dog-sit Sykes), so they seem to have met their match in each other.

The new series starts out with Habeas Corpus.  An elderly man dies at
home in bed, surrounded by his family and the local doctor. The family retires downstairs to wait for the undertaker, but when he arrives and goes upstairs to retrieve the body, everyone is shocked to discover the bed is empty and the recently deceased Gregory Lancaster is nowhere to be found.  This is perplexing enough, but not long afterward, a body is stolen from a grave in the local churchyard.  This missing body also turns out to have a connection to the Lancaster family, as it belongs to the former nanny of the children (now grown).  This case has aspects that reach far beyond Midsomer County, as Felix Lancaster (son and heir of the missing man) spends most of his time on expeditions to Antarctica.  It turns out he has already pledged to sell the estate to his childhood friend Sonny Desai.  Sonny, meanwhile, has made his fortune in somewhat shady mining deals in Mozambique.  Felix's sister Rose, her finance Craig, and mother Hermione, are all somewhat shell-shocked at the thought of losing their home.  Still, the living arrangements are of little concern to Barnaby and Nelson as they try to figure out where the missing bodies are, and who on earth would have taken them.  On the home front, things are rather noisy at Casa Barnaby, as baby Betty's beloved Pink Ted continually goes missing, only to turn up in the oddest places.

A connection even farther away than Antarctica occurs in The Incident at Copper Hill, where people are gathering at a place known for UFO sightings.  Felicity Ford, a forest ranger, is found dead in very unusual circumstances.  Her vehicle is found in the middle of the road, running, with the door open and one of her boots nearby.   Eventually she is found encased in a strange bag and covered in an unusual goo.  Kam quickly determines that the cause of death was drowning in this goo, which was apparently in liquid form at high temperatures, but solidifies as it cools.  Aside from the UFOlogists who are in town hoping to glimpse some extraterrestrials, a MOD base is nearby and figures in the investigation.  The commander of the base, Group Captain Ford (father of the dead woman) is not keen to have any civilians on his base, even if they are investigating a murder.  So were alien beings really responsible for the death, or is the truth closer to Earth?

The world of competitive cycling gets nasty in Breaking the Chain.  Greg Eddon wins the current
stage of the Midsomer Cycling Grand Prix, even though he had been instructed to let another teammate win.  As Greg is winding down after the race, someone interferes with his equipment and murders him.  All sorts of possible motives emerge, including professional jealousy, team rivalries and illegal doping -- which have people scurrying to cover their tracks, even if certain individual mis-deeds didn't lead to the murder.

Episode Four, Dying Art, concerns a wealthy man who has upset most of his neighbors by blocking off the area woodlands in order to open a
private sculpture garden.  When the man, Brandon Monkford, is discovered murdered and posed on one of the sculptures, Barnaby and Nelson must consider the fact that someone in the village really wanted their woodland back.  Of course, there were also plenty of artists who wanted the fame and recognition of having their artwork displayed in the new attraction, and when that didn't happen, plenty of rejected artists had a motive for murder as well.  Brandon's family is astonished to learn that he cut them all out of his will and left his sizable estate to an employee, so could money be the motive?

Saints and Sinners concerns an archaeological dig taking place in the
county.  The renowned leader of the dig, Zoe Dyer, is jubilant to discover a skeleton that she believes to be the remains of Cecily Milson, a 16th century Protestant martyr who was tortured and put to death for her beliefs.  This presents a problem in the small village of Midsomer Cecily, because they believe they already have her remains on display in the church, where they are enshrined as religious relics.  In fact, the annual Cecily Day celebrations are coming up, and it's very inconvenient to have two sets of remains for one individual.  When Zoe is discovered murdered at the dig site, Barnaby discovers just how ruthless the fields of history and archaeology truly are.

The final episode of the series, Harvest of Souls, takes place during the Whitcombe Mallet Harvest Fayre.  The village green is taken over for the annual "fayre" but it looks as if the celebration's days may be numbered.  The local "squire," Harry Wyham, wants to sell the land and stop the annual tradition.  This especially doesn't sit well with Butch Nevins, owner of the Wall of Death motorcycle attraction at the fair.  When Harry is discovered apparently trampled to death by a horse in his own Wyham Equestrian Center, it quickly becomes apparent that it wasn't an accident.  As well as angering the villagers in general and Butch in particular, Harry was also in a custody battle over his young daughter Amy.  Her mother, Jessica, has had some problems, but now wants more time with her daughter.  So the finger of suspicion points in many directions!  At the same time, the Barnaby family is hoping to go on vacation to France, but Sykes the dog is not happy about the idea.

It was wonderful to go back to Midsomer again, and to try to work out the tangled lives of its inhabitants.  Everyone seems to have plenty to hide, even if it isn't a murderous secret.  There seems
to be a lot of "us vs. them" conflicts in these stories -- outsiders (UFO chasers & nighthawks/
metal detectorists) vs. villagers, as well as people trying to do new things and villagers getting upset that it was disrupting the natural surroundings (the bike race and sculpture park).  I liked the lighthearted competition between Nelson and Kam, and I'm sure they'll find plenty of new areas to challenge each other in when we see them again next year! It was also nice to see familiar faces popping up including Allison Stedman, Helen Baxendale and Julia Sawalha as well as Sian Webber.  I didn't recognize Sian Webber's name, but she was instantly familiar as "Ritchie," the long suffering legal fixer for the Mitchell clan on Eastenders.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Midsomer Murders Series 18 from Acorn Media in exchange for this review.

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