Last week, I passed along a couple of recommendations for Agatha Christie mini-series on DVD (or streaming). This week, I wanted to pass along a handful of recommendations for some of what we might call “Dame Agatha’s Children.”
• Murdoch Mysteries: My husband and I are big fans of this Canadian series that takes place in early 20th century Toronto.
From time to time, we’ve tried to pin down exactly what makes this series (now in year eleven) so appealing and popular. There are a lot of moving pieces here, all of them contributing to something that’s fun to watch.
The lead character, William Murdoch, is a Catholic from eastern Canada (Nova Scotia and Montreal) who becomes a constable on the Toronto police force.
He’s a brilliant man with more than a touch of the stereotypical Boy Scout in him. In fact, the series is played in a slightly wooden way to emphasize that Boy-Scoutness with the characters speaking to one another as if they are constrained by the same forces that shaped Murdoch. The tone kind of reminds me of the cartoonish acting in the old Batman television series. (Believe me, Murdoch is not that bad, just sort of in the same direction.)
Murdoch introduces science into Toronto’s police investigations, and along the way, he becomes friends with the city coroner, a woman named Julia Ogden, who shares his passion for science. Over time, theirs becomes a romance for the ages, a will-they, won’t-they odyssey that helps soften the Murdoch character. Julia’s a very modern woman and her presence highlights many of the women’s issues of the time such as voting, sexual slavery, and abortion. (For that matter, they’re issues of this time. Some things never change, do they?)
Some episodes are comic, often including one of Murdoch’s many inventions such as FAXing, headphones (pictured at right), and night goggles, all done with a huge dollop of steampunk design and truly funky names.
Some episodes include historic figures such as Mark Twain, Nicola Tesla, Emma Goldman, Wild Bill Hickock, etc. as well as significant developments in Canadian history.
And when the right villain shows up, Murdoch can give your adrenal system a jolt.
This one’s a keeper.
• Foyle’s War: If you are a history buff in any sense of that phrase, you’ll like Foyle’s War a lot.
Foyle is played with incredible understatement by Michael Kitchen. I’m telling you, this man can do more with a single raised eyebrow than most other actors can do with their whole face.
His portrayal fits the character, an inspector in the town of Hastings (England) who yearns to be part of the action of World War II but is thought, and rightly so as it turns out, to be more of an asset on the home front.
Each episode is a stand-alone though there are continuing characters and their stories as well. The attention to period detail and historical fact is absolutely spot on, and gives the whole series a flavor that widens your perspective on the history of the home front during the war.
• Inspector Lewis: I doubt there is a “Masterpiece Mystery” that I haven’t watched and enjoyed. Those folks do a seriously good job.
That being said, I especially wanted to recommend Inspector Lewis to those of you who enjoyed the Inspector Morse (and its prequel Endeavor) series.
In Morse, Robbie Lewis (Kevin Whately) is the long-suffering sidekick. With Morse now gone, he comes into his own as he solves crimes in Oxford. (There’s a seriously high murder rate here though nothing like in Midsomer Murders.)
When the series begins, Lewis gets his own sidekick, a younger and rather cynical man named James Hathaway (Laurence Fox). Of all the pairings in British mystery-dom, I like watching these two the most. (Okay, except for maybe Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in Sherlock.)
Sometimes they rub up against one another in ways guaranteed to cause friction. But there’s an essential decency to both characters that makes their efforts to take care of one another compelling to watch.
As I said, every “Masterpiece Mystery” I’ve ever watched has been well done so you can’t go wrong no matter which one you choose. I just wanted to make sure you didn’t miss this one.
• Death in Paradise: Among Agatha Christie’s many innovations in the mystery field, the one most associated with her is the ending where the detective brings all of the suspects together in one room to reveal the perpetrator.
Death in Paradise is wedged firmly in that tradition.
There have been three different lead characters in this romp in the Caribbean so far. My favorite was the second Englishman transported to paradise played by Kris Marshall.
The English inspector is, of course, the proverbial fish out of water, even though he always solves the crime while the locals just shake their heads.
This series is, essentially, a jigsaw puzzle on DVD, a light, well-done bit of entertainment.
Of course, there’s all that incredible scenery. Don’t blame me if your next vacation is in the islands.