So, the first series of Death in Paradise has finished. Eight one-hour self-contained light mystery dramas with a serious touch of Golden Age mystery structure. We’ve had a locked room mystery, a murder while the victim was handcuffed to the chief detective and six other odd conundrums.
By the way, I’m using the phrase “first series” optimistically here – not wishing to spoil my review, I’m really hoping that there’s more to come from Saint-Marie.
I’ve already reviewed the first episode here, but I thought I’d do a little series overview. It’ll be on the iPlayer for the next week or so, so hopefully people who missed it can catch up quickly. It stars Ben Miller, of Armstrong and Miller fame, as DI Richard Poole, a London policeman effectively exiled to the Caribbean. Cue many fish out of water jokes that were a little blunt initially, truth be told, but settled down quickly into endearing character traits. Sara Martins plays Camille, his sergeant and Danny John-Jules (Cat from Red Dwarf) and Gary Carr round out the team as Dwayne and Fidel. It’s a really good ensemble cast who play off each other well. There’s a great natural chemistry between Miller and Martins as well – you can see there is some level of attraction between these opposites, but it never needs to be overtly commented on – the one time that it does (by Camille’s mother), it seemed to come out of nowhere.
The series was created by TV newcomer Robert Thorogood, who also wrote five of the eight episodes. I’d be curious to see what other people think, but I’d say they were the best five episodes as well. The others were fine, but the mystery content was, at times, a little flat. It was more than made up for by the cast and the script but for a mystery-junkie like me, there was a real polish to the best episodes.
The highlights for me were episode 1, playing on a couple of classic themes, the locked room murder and something from one of my favourite Agatha Christie novels – I won’t say which one as that would give it away, episode 3, where a woman predicts her own murder, in particular for the horrific final twist and the reveal of all of the clues pointing to the killer in episode 8. The other overall highlight was the avoidance of the guest-star murderer, very common in, say, Midsomer Murders. Is Richard Briers in the episode? Or one of the Foxes? Guess who the killer is! This was generally achieved by sticking in at least two famous actors into the cast – the casting highlight for me was episode 3, with both Michael Maloney and Nicholas Farrell, both habitual guest-villains. It didn’t always work – the killer in episode 5 stood out like a sore thumb for this reason, as did another, which might have worked better if he’d been integrated into the cast a little more. But regardless of this, the reveal of the clues, the lecture on why and how we, the viewers, should have worked it out was something that is all too rare in modern detective television was always a high point – in fact, I’d go so far as to say non-existent on this side of the Atlantic. The Mentalist, Psych and Castle make a stab at it in the US, but not to this degree. The other notable feature of the denouement was that usually it wasn’t a last minute clue that clinched it. The clues were there from the start and you had plenty of time to mull over them and come to the wrong conclusion.
So, another series please, as fast as possible. One reviewer mentioned of Episode One – “this isn’t the new Waking the Dead” – couldn’t agree more. TV needs less messy murder and more of this – something to make you laugh, think and occasionally gasp in horror at the same time.