Midsomer Murders Set 17
Recurring character(s): Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby (John Nettles), Detective Sergeant Ben Jones (Jason Hughes), Joyce Barnaby (Jane Wymark), Dr. George Bullard (Barry Jackson), WPC Gail Stephens (Kirsty Dillon)
Original air date(s): 03/19/2009, 03/26/2009, 07/07/2009, 07/21/2009
DVD Date: 02/22/2011
Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 400 minutes
Note(s): Episodes in this series are based on characters created by Caroline Graham.
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Review: It's no secret I'm a fan of Midsomer Murders; I've enthusiastically reviewed previous sets of the series, and this current set doesn't disappoint. There are several remarkable aspects to the series, which I tend to think of as being "comfortably familiar", not the least of which is that the writers have kept it fresh, making subtle changes along the way but retaining all those elements that keep us returning for more.
Newcomers need not fear they are walking into the middle of a series that requires a lot of backstory; each episode is a self-contained storyline, though there are a number of regular and recurring characters. John Nettles stars as Causton CID Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby, who solves one or more murders per episode with the help of his trusty sidekick Detective Sergeant Ben Jones (Jason Hughes). The characters were created by Caroline Graham, who featured them in a series of mysteries published from 1988 through 2004. Also featured in this set are Chief Medical Examiner Dr. George Bullard (Barry Jackson), who frequently plays a friendly foil to Barnaby's often barbed quips, and Constable Gail Stephens (Kirsty Dillon), who is promoted to Detective Constable in one of the episodes, and provides some competition to Jones in the crime-solving department.
Four episodes are included in this set, which originally aired in the UK during March and July, 2009. The official synopsis from the studio for each episode appears after my comments.
"The Dogleg Murders" is largely set at an exclusive country club, providing an interesting contrast between the "haves" and the "have-nots" -- and of course setting the stage for a murder. An intriguing storyline is presented, but it doesn't seem to fit all that well with the surroundings. It's almost as if the writers came up with a good idea for a mystery, then somehow tried to force it to work on golf course. Barnaby, however, is in rare form here; he's not a golfer though his immediate superior is ... and is also a member of the club where the murders take place. When asked if he golfs, his wry reply is, "I always thought it a bit unsporting, you know, hitting a stationary ball." (Synopsis: A peaceful afternoon on the links turns fatal when a man is bludgeoned at the notoriously difficult 13th hole. The crime scene is a high-status local golf club that has long stirred up resentments between the moneyed members and villagers clamoring for a taste of luxury. Barnaby’s investigation sees him coping with haughty club members, sibling rivalry, and the icy Eileen Fountain—the club’s domineering manager.)
"The Black Book" is a cleverly plotted mystery, the only one of the four in this set that has an unexpected and delightfully ironic twist at the end. Given the crimes and sums of money involved, some of the plot points strain credulity a bit, though overall it's a very enjoyable episode. (Synopsis: When a painting by celebrated landscape artist Henry Hogson goes up for auction, art dealers descend upon the village. Local collectors are outraged when the work sells to an out-of-towner for a princely sum. Soon after, a brutal murderer begins targeting the Midsomer art world. Further complicating the case, the usually collected Barnaby becomes besotted with a pretty art teacher with a dubious past.)
"Secrets and Spies" is possibly the best episode of the set, introducing events from the past that are influencing the present. It also has the most credibly incorporated red herrings, always the mark of an exciting mystery. A minor quibble: it's a little hard to believe that Dr. Bullard couldn't figure out the cause of death in two of the three murders. The sport of cricket is also prominently featured in this episode, of which I know absolutely nothing, no doubt leading me to miss something along the way! (Synopsis: Something is killing sheep in Midsomer Parva, and whispers abound that it’s the mysterious "beast of Midsomer." Meanwhile, Barnaby’s former career in espionage comes to light after he reluctantly agrees to officiate at a cricket match. The situation turns sinister when the beast moves on to human prey, leading Barnaby to believe that the killings are connected to a Cold War grudge.)
"The Glitch" is an almost playful episode -- at least as playful as a murder can be -- and is quite entertaining. The storyline takes full advantage of contrasting university academics and corporate types, while also showing their interdependence. The mystery plot isn't as fully developed as one might like, but it's a thrill watching Barnaby sort it all out. (Synopsis: Software magnate Clinton Finn funds the construction of a new building for a local school, but not everyone is impressed with his generosity. George Jeffers claims the air-traffic control program he created for Finn is defective and possibly deadly, but the millionaire American insists they press on with the lucrative product. After several people are killed, the detectives must discern who had the most to gain by withholding information about the faulty software.)
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