Article first published as DVD Review: Midsomer Murders, Set 17 on Blogcritics.
A new-to-the-U.S. DVD set, Midsomer Murders, Set 17 features four episodes from the British detective series, based on the novels by Caroline Graham. These were originally aired in 2009, and like the rest of the series, are set in the multiple-murderous villages of Midsomer. The discs include some extras including fun facts and interview material with guest stars, but the main attraction is Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby and his quirky Midsomer beat.
From the looks of the place, Midsomer should be a sleepy, idyllic place to live, but like its American counterpart of Cabot Cove, ME, which sometimes seems to have a higher death rate than population, Midsomer can be a dangerous place to live. Thank goodness Barnaby, played by John Nettles, and Det. Sgt. Ben Jones, played by Jason Hughes, are as able to sort out whodunnit as ever. Wonderfully creepy music has always leant a touch of atmosphere to this series and continues to hint at what lurks beneath the surface. According to The Telegraph, the music "is rerecorded for every episode using an unusual instrument called a theremin."
In "The Dogleg Murders" an exclusive golf club provides the backdrop for extortion, a beyond-dysfunctional family, and some not-so-friendly gambling between golfing buddies. Snobbery and rivalry between the village folk and the more affluent golf club members is also on display, as the villagers, not allowed in the main clubhouse, are relegated to "the cooler" — "the "shed behind the carpark." Apparently England's class struggles have never completely gone away. Barnaby "doesn't speak golf," but still needs to find the killer. Even more alarming — he may be roped into playing badminton as a team sport by the Mrs. if he isn't careful.
"The Black Book" opens with a succession of truly Idyllic landscapes — the surrounding dales of Midsomer — immortalized by local artist Henry Hogson. A newly-discovered Hogson painting fetches a huge sum at auction and prompts a quick cycle of greed, murder and suspicions of forgery. Only Barnaby can determine what part fly fishing, pigs, and art therapist Susannah Harker play in his investigation.
The third movie in the set, "Secrets and Spies," finds Barnaby wrestling for control of his murder case with the former spies holed up in in a local safehouse. But ex-spies never seem to ever retire completely. Barnaby reveals his own brief time with MI6 as he sorts through a museum break-in with nothing taken, attacks on sheep by the mythical "Beast of Midsomer," and a rollicking cricket match. Mata Hari-like guest star Alice Krige aims to please — pretty much all-comers — "Whatever we can do to make your stay more pleasurable" — effortlessly vamping her way from guest bed to hayloft to the back of a van. As usual, there is lots going on under the surface in Midsomer.
An American entrepreneur tangles with university professor George Jeffers over an invention, "The Glitch," while local bikers are at odds with drivers who don't want to share the road. When a female biker riding Jeffers's bike is killed, Barnaby must determine whether her death was connected to Jeffers's public life, private life love triangles, or unhappy son. Meanwhile, Joyce (Mrs. Barnaby) and their daughter Cully join the cycling club for an exciting and possibly deadly race to the finish.
The cast and the environs are so likable that the viewer may not be too concerned with the actual solution of the crime. Like Agatha Christie, usually the citizens who get bumped off are not so very nice to begin with. Midsomer Murders manages to use an environment as its main feature, some extremely likable regular characters, with the murder mystery to give it the slightest structure. And it all works beautifully. These stories can be revisited again and again, along with the villages of Midsomer.