Year Released: 1997-1-2014
Directed by: Jeremy Silbertson and others
Starring: John Nettles, Daniel Casey, Jane Wymark, Laura Howard
(NR, 139 min.)
Genre: Crime Drama
“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The long enduring British Television mystery series, Midsomer Murders, is like the comfort of an old friend, the kind you welcome to your home without any compunctions about dust or dirty dishes. It is a soothing cup of tea on a cold December day, that comfy old sweater you can never discard even after it is no longer in fashion.
And the British TV series is as popular as it is prolific. With lready 100 episodes spanning 1997 until the present, it is devoured worldwide in some 50 countries ranging from Estonia to Iran, not to mention the good old US of A, where Netflix streams some 95 episodes.
Part of the lure is the beautiful countryside of the fictitious Midsomer County, inspired by the real county of Somerset. Although the time frame is current, the atmosphere is not. It is Miss Marple's St. Mary’s Meade transported to your big screen, complete with thatch-roofed cottages, and townspeople that still ride bicycles or thoroughbreds through the cobbled streets. And the gardens are to die for. The roses climb the walls of even the most modest cottage like praetorian guards, and spill over into the courtyards with very unmilitary abandon.
But do not let that setting fool you. Midsomer is home to a marvelous amount of murders. In fact, the phenomenal homicide rate in this pastoral setting is almost a running joke in the series. Each 1 ½ plus hour episode sports at least 2 or 3 homicides, and they do not spare the gore. But they are very creative. Take, for instance, the episode when a dairy worker crushed to death with a giant round of weaponized cheese.
Victims have met their bizarre ends via a candlestick, an arrow, a slide projector, a doped horse, poisonous frog, a Celtic spear, liquid nicotine, toxic fungi, hemlock, vintage claret and King Neptune’s trident. Midsomer Facts and Trivia
DCI Barnaby (John Nettles and now Neil Dodgeon) has none of that edginess we often associate with homicide detectives. He is not serially divorced, misanthropic, nor addicted to booze or drugs. Barnaby does, however, enjoy his evening wine. And his only marital disharmony consists of sly references to his wife’s shortcomings in her culinary skills.
In fact, he is a bit like that equally stolid DCI (Detective Chief Inspector) Christopher Foyle, which shouldn’t be to surprising because Anthony Horowitz has his hand in creating the screenplays for both series:
There’s nothing flashy about Foyle. He is not the film noir anti-hero flashing his vices and vulnerabilities across the screen. Neither is he the eccentric nor egotist we have come to expect from Agatha Christie or Arthur Conan Doyle.
Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Foyle, played to perfection by Michael Kitchens, is a thoroughly decent chap, modest and scrupulously honest. He never throws his DCI title around. “My name is Foyle. I’m a police officer,” is his usual introduction.
Another British Detective Barnaby reminds us of is George Gently, the former Scotland Yard sleuth who finds crime in the gentle outbacks just as compelling as it ever was in London:
And it is that solid disposition that sets Gently apart from so many other English detectives remembered for their genius and eccentricity. He is not the fastidious Poirot, obsessed with symmetry, the little grey cells, and his perfect moustache. Nor is he the misanthropic Holmes frenetically sorting through tobacco ashes or down on his hands and knees examining footprints. Gently is much closer to George Simenon’s French Detective Inspector Maigret, who solves his crimes with traditional, painstaking patience.
Perhaps the closest we Americans can come to Barnaby is Tom Selleck’s circumspect Police Commisioner Frank Reagan from television’s “Blue Bloods.”
If like me and much of the movie going public, you are not enchanted with the current film offerings. If too many films seem safe sequels or revisited material. If Oscar nominees continue to be films hardly anybody has seen or actually wants to see, then maybe it is time to cuddle in your warm house and taste this addicting series.
Even DCI Barnaby’s wife, Joyce, who is no star in the kitchen, could handle this delicious dish, sometimes called the inevitable English dessert. English Trifle is a layered dessert that contains custard, sherry soaked cake, fruit, jam and whipped cream. It is not unlike the wonderful Italian layered tiramisu or the exquisite French Zuppa Inglese.
This recipe is from Different Drummer’s own Appetite for Murder: A Mystery Lover’s Cookbook, a great Christmas gift, I might suggest.
English Trifle with Fresh Raspberries and Sherry Drizzle
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups milk, or
3 egg yolks, beaten
3 tablespoons margarine or butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 package ladyfingers
2 tablespoons sherry
2 cups raspberries
1 cup chilled whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons toasted, slivered almonds
Mix 1/2 cup sugar, the cornstarch, and salt in a 3-quart saucepan; gradually stir in milk. Heat to boiling over medium heat, stirring constantly; boil and stir 1 minute. Stir at least half of the hot mixture gradually into egg yolks. Stir back into hot mixture in saucepan. Boil and stir 1 minute. Remove from heat; stir in margarine, vanilla, and almond extract. Cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours.
Split ladyfingers lengthwise into halves. Layer half of the ladyfingers, cut sides up, in 2-quart glass serving bowl. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the sherry. Layer half of the raspberries and half of the cold egg yolk mixture over ladyfingers; repeat. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours, but no longer than 8 hours.
Beat whipping cream and 2 tablespoons sugar in chilled bowl until stiff; spread over dessert. Sprinkle with almonds.