I tweeted recently to keep an eye out for “Death in Paradise”, a new BBC1 crime show starring Ben Miller, of Armstrong and Miller fame, as the trailer indicated that the first episode contained what was referred to as “a classic locked room mystery”. This inspired two separate emotions in me – some hope that this was indeed the case and some resignation that it almost certainly wasn’t.
The premise of the show is that Inspector Poole from the London Met has been assigned to Sante-Marie, a Caribbean island paradise, somewhat against his will – his colleagues had his leaving party after he left – to investigate the murder of his predecessor, shot inside a locked panic room. Of course, given the nature of this sort of thing, Poole hates everything about the island – sun, sea, sand and lizards – but, given the stereotypical set-up, was it any good?
My opinion of this is possibly a little biased. You see, the day before, I watched an episode of Midsomer Murders (aka Inspector Barnaby in some countries). Midsomer Murders for me is like that pair of slippers that you’ve got with the soles falling off. You know you shouldn’t keep wearing them, but they’re comfy enough. Anyway, this episode was bloody awful. It was misogynistic, stupid, obvious, stupid, and suffered from the usual “guest-star being the murderer” syndrome. Oh, did I mention that it was stupid? Seriously, if you establish early on that there were at least three people involved in the murder, surely the twist should be that it wasn’t the man with two obvious henchmen. I digress. Sorry. But it was so stupid.
The point is, I was hoping for something good here. So much crime drama on the television is centred on the darkness behind the crime that there seems to be little room for the whodunnit and even then, it’s rarely done well. I’ve got a fair bit of time for the US shows that appear over here on Freeview, such as Castle or The Mentalist, and a couple of others that I’ve stumbled across – Psych being the standout favourite, but with the exception of Jonathan Creek, I can’t think of a decent, proper mystery show.
Now we have one. Well, based on the first episode at least. There’s a balance of the mystery plot-strand and the fish-out-of-water strand, but I was pleasantly surprised to see the former taking much more of the screen time. Time was found to discuss the plot without it standing out too much like exposition and there was even time to develop the supporting characters as well. Ben Miller, after what I thought were a couple of odd early scenes, settled into the role quickly – I’m not sure I buy why he was so unpopular back home – and did a good job with it. Lenora Crichlow (Being Human) is excellent as his sidekick and Danny John-Jules (Cat from Red Dwarf) deserves a mention as one of other policemen, the laid-back Duane.
As for the mystery – I worked out most of it, although using meta-methods a bit – you’ll understand if you see it – but it was properly done. There were clues, there were a number of tricks that old hands might recognise but they were mixed up nicely and I wager that a large number of the viewers will have been tricked by the conclusion. The locked room was a newish spin on one of Fell’s methods (Chapter 17 of The Hollow Man) and also reminded
me somewhat of one episode of Jonathan Creek in particular, but it was well carried out. Cynics would point out that the murderer needed a lot of luck to get away with it, but that’s hardly new in such a story.
So, overall, I’d recommend this show – get on the iPlayer and watch it as soon as possible. I don’t think it’s a locked room every week, but on the strength of this episode, I’ll be watching this one carefully.