For those who haven’t encountered the show before, it revolves around Jonathan, a designer of magic tricks for the magician Adam Klaus, who is dragged into solving impossible crimes first by freelance journalist Maddy Magellan and then, when Caroline Quentin left the series, a number of other muses. We’ll come to them later, but I’m going to be looking at the show one series at a time. Needless to say, I don’t have time to re-watch the whole lot of them, but I’ll be focussing on one episode per series, picking the one that I remember the least. In the case of Series One – The Reconstituted Corpse.
Zola Zbzewski has become famous due to the countless cosmetic surgeries performed on her by her ex-lover. But on the eve of the publication of her kiss-and-tell memoirs, her ex-lover is shot dead. Someone is apparently trying to frame Zola, even down to DNA evidence, but the mystery becomes even more complicated when another dead body appears out of nowhere…
Been deliberately vague about that last bit because the who and where are both in most synopses but they are genuine surprises if you haven’t seen the episode before. And they’re bloody good surprises.
It’s an odd episode this one and it’s up against stiff competition in Series One – see below. The impossibility is, as far as I’m aware, an original one. David Renwick certainly tries to, at worst, present a familiar locked room problem with an original spin, and at best, present a completely new situation. This one isn’t only unfamiliar, it’s completely bizarre.
There is one problem with it – apart from some ropey-ish acting from some of the supporting actors – and that is that it all hinges on a lot of coincidences. Not uncommon in crime fiction, the impossible situation appearing due to an accidental occurrence, but there are at least three unlikely happenings combining to put the situation together. Goodness knows how Jonathan puts it all together.
The other thing that struck me when watching the episode is how the show at this point isn’t really about Jonathan – almost everything is seen from Maddy’s point of view. Jonathan doesn’t really get any screen time by himself and in this episode, you don’t get much of an idea what’s underneath Maddy’s brash exterior. And without those flashes that occur in other episodes, she can be a bit abrasive. Jonathan is the calm focus of the partnership when he’s on screen but Maddy gets a lot more screen time here. One wonders if the draft title for the series had her name in it.
Despite this, it’s a good watch, but it’s the weakest episode of the series. The rest are:
The Wrestler’s Tomb – not an impossible crime really, more a question of every suspect having an unbreakable alibi. As such, no clear impossibility to explain without pointing out the murderer. A clever mystery.
Jack In The Box – my favourite episode of the programme. Shame it’s episode two so it’s (very slowly) downhill from here. A man shoots himself sealed inside a concrete bunker. But his arthritis is so bad, he could never have pulled the trigger…
No Trace Of Tracy – a school girl fan of an aging pop star is seen entering his house, only to vanish. He is accused of kidnapping her – his story is that at the exact moment of her entering, he was chained to the radiator in the hall directly facing the front door. Only she never entered. Surely he must be lying… A clever poser if a somewhat over-the-top scheme to achieve the result desired.
The House Of Monkeys – a medical researcher locks himself in his library. A fight is heard, and when the door is broken down, he lies dead, stabbed by a samurai sword from an empty (?) suit of ornamental armour. The door was sealed – not even one of the monkeys who live in the house could have got in… Up there with Jack In The Box as one of the best, but the fundamental idea isn’t that original, although you probably won’t spot it.
Series One is one of the finest collection of television mysteries that you’ll probably ever see, which is probably why people tend to be negative about some of the later episodes, but we’ll come to those soon. In the meantime, why not have a look at these again (a lot of the complete episodes are on Youtube or Netflix in the UK) and on the off-chance you haven’t seen the show before, the beginning is a very good place to start…