And cue the theramin!
91 episodes at ninety minutes (excluding adverts), ITV has provided us with almost six soild days of Midsomer Murders since the inception of the series back in 1996 – one almost forgets that the popular programme was based on a short series of novels – seven in total, the first five of which make up the first series of the programme, before the writers branched off on their own. You probably know the basic plot – someone gets murdered, lots of people look shifty, some more people get murdered and then Barnaby arrests the most famous actor in the cast who’s still alive – known in our house as the “Richard Briers Factor”, generated by an early Midsomer Murders episode where my good lady wife spent the entire story saying “surely it must be Richard Briers”.
But as part of New Author August (back to it after two requested reviews of old authors), I thought I’d go back to the origins of the series – the first book to feature Chief Inspector Barnaby.
The leads are basically what you see on the screen. After countless years of John Nettles, it’s impossible not to see him when you read about Barnaby, but he’s a pretty good fit. Apart from the book version being on pills for an unnamed condition, it’s effectively the same character. Sergeant Troy book version is rather grumpier and stupider than the TV version that I remember – it might have been nice if he’d actually helped the plot rather than just grumbling about life, the universe and everything, but it’s a reasonable contrast to Barnaby.
The plot? Well, an old lady, while hunting orchids, stumbles across two people… um… enjoying each other’s company in the woods and runs off, horrified. Later on, as she’s about to tell someone about it, there’s a knock on her door… and the next day, she’s dead of “natural causes”. Her friend and rival contacts Barnaby, who, smelling a rat, orders an autopsy to find that the woman was poisoned by hemlock, of all things. As he investigates the small village of Badger’s Drift, he uncovers all sorts of unpleasant things behind the veil of village life.
It’s a good read – it’s on the CWA top 100 mystery list, and it is a proper whodunnit. If I had a slight concern, it’s that given the author’s intent to show us that all sorts of unpleasantness lurks in an apparently pristine village, you might be able to take a guess at who the victim saw in the woods… I’ll say no more than that, but when I considered how bad something could be, the solution presented itself pretty quickly.
Having said that, it’s a very well-constructed mystery and an enjoyable read. Recommended – even if you can’t stand the television series – which I will come back to at some point, by the way.