by Kathleen Costa
Masterpiece Mystery is a popular PBS series bringing excellent mysteries and thrillers set around the world and in various time periods. Your PBS station can be found through many locations: KQED is the Bay Area, KVIE is Sacramento/Stockton, and KVPT is the Fresno area. No membership requirement, although each station takes frequent pledge breaks during the year and some have special access opportunities. PBS KVIE Passport is available to members donating $60/year or more or $5/month or more. If you have questions about your eligibility, please email passport@kvie[dot]org or call (916) 641-3500.
Masterpiece Mystery’s Miss Scarlet and the Duke returned for a second season with most of the original cast intact. Season 1 had some characters moving on, left behind bars, or off to meet their maker, but the new additions are perfect compliments to Miss Scarlett and Inspector Wellington. The cases, often intersecting, provide a challenge on a professional, as well as personal, level for our duo. Due to a long-time friendship they still quip, criticize, and commend each other, but their true feelings are still kept hidden.
Miss Eliza Scarlett (Kate Phillips) continues to struggle as a private investigator, especially since, because of her gender, clients are leery of contracting her, or when they do, some think they can ignore or delay their contractual obligations. Still, she’s good at her job despite the obstacles, but she does rely on “The Jamaican” Moses (Ansu Kabia), her friend/housekeeper Ivy (Cathy Belton), and Harriet “Hattie” (Jessie Cave; Harry Potter). When asked, “How do you find out these things?” she replies, “It’s my warm, approachable manner.”
“The Duke,” more accurately Inspector William Wellington (Stuart Martin), still struggles with social obstacles related to his Scottish ancestry and the aftermath of Miss Scarlet’s interference. There’s a new Chief Superintendent, and he expects William to take under his wing the men he brought with him to the station. This includes a very young, inexperienced, and overly talkative Detective Oliver Fitzroy (Evan McCabe), but when he blows a case with his incompetence, William fires him. The Superintendent overrides the dismissal since Fitzroy is the son of the influential Police Commissioner. Fitzroy’s shortcomings, professional and personal, are problematic and ongoing, but William finds a kinship choosing to mentor more effectively to make him a good detective.
The relationship between Eliza and William has always been close, but now it has become more strained and distant. The obstacles and conflicts caused by her investigations too often interfere with the official work or place Eliza in jeopardy. They are at a stalemate personally, but professionally, he is resistant to her ideas of collaboration: from a missing sister to insurance fraud to break ins at the morgue, from corporate blackmail to murder resembling a popular detective novel to plain revenge. Miss Scarlet also deals with the antics of a competing private investigations firm whose owner wishes for her to work for him. The series ending ties up a few issues, but their unresolved feelings has its own emotional “do they or don’t they?” cliffhanger.
Miss Scarlet and the Duke earns 5/5 Case Files…Engaging & Fun! I love the series! I love the era with beautiful long dresses and hats and men always in suits, tea in the afternoon, and pubs ready with a pint of beer or shot of whisky. The main characters compliment each other with their opposite personalities and perspective, yet the societal obstacles they face connected to gender and background have similar effects: limited respect and opportunities for advancement. Each episode has a clever case with a surprise ending or arrest, but the conflict between Eliza’s private investigator role and William’s official police work still causes a riff. The final episode was an informative behind the scenes look with the cast and crew. I always like those insider revelations.
Season three is in the can already, and although it is available in its entirety for early viewing thru PBS Passport, a membership program, the rest of us can start watching the all-new six-episode season of Miss Scarlet and The Duke beginning Sunday, January 8, 2023 and will run through February 12, 2023 on Masterpiece on PBS.
Masterpiece Mystery’s Magpie Murders is a brand new mystery with a great cast and a unique take on the mystery genre. Based on Anthony Horowitz’s first novel, Magpie Murders (2016), in the Susan Ryeland series, it is a story within a story, a mystery within a mystery, a murder within a murder. Susan Ryeland (Leslie Manville) is an editor for a successful publishing house owned by her good friend Charles Clover (Michael Maloney). Clover is in negotiations with a large international firm to buy his business, and with their premier author, Alan Conway (Conleth Hill; Game of Thrones), set to publish his latest Atticus Pünd detective novel, they can count on a huge windfall.
Their excitement, however, sours. Conway’s Magpie Murders, should be a hit, but the author has written his fictional detective as being ill … dying, in fact. Does that mean the author is killing off his popular and lucrative detective? That isn’t all. Susan discovers the final chapter is missing! Before Susan can approach Conway about the plot line and the missing pages, she learns he’s dead having taken a header off the roof. Now, what are they to do? Reputations and the sale of the business are at stake, so while Reyland sets out to find the final chapter, she is also compelled to investigate Conway’s death. Along the way she learns this unpleasant man had many detractors, many who found themselves as unflattering characters in his book: an ex-wife, a mixed-race son, a writing student, his gay lover, his sister, and some desperate for money.
The unique element of Magpie Murders is that intertwined into the present day search for the final chapter of the novel and Conway’s murder, is the dramatization of Conway’s book. Set in 1955, Atticus Pünd (Tim McMullan), a well known private detective on the lines as Hercule Poirot, has become intrigued by an accidental death, a robbery, and a brutal murder all having taken place at Pye Hall. But, even more unique, as Reyland tries to weed through her own mystery, one she feels is tied to the book, she actually envisions conversations with Pünd. She knows he’s not there, but it is a fascinating way for her to arrange her thoughts using Pünd as a sounding board by asking questions, even listening to his advice or insights on how she should look at the story. He’s not a ghost. He is her inner voice manifesting as the brilliant detective.
Magpie Murders earns 5+/5 Chapter Twists…Clever & Compelling! This was such a compelling series with an unique premise I found very enjoyable. I was hooked, of course, in the drama surrounding the author’s murder with so many suspects and reasonable motives, including someone very close to Reyland. She, too, had a beef with the author. The final reveal was a total surprise with the right amount of attempted murder! Pünd’s mystery, too, had a twisty road to follow with key characters in Conway’s life portrayed by the same actors but in different roles. Not confusing at all. And in true Agatha Christie fashion, Pünd gathers together key figures and lays out the details, the motives, and the killer’s identity—another surprise! At the end of each episode, author Anthony Horowitz offers insights into many facets of the story from his writing process to filming of the show. Some of the behind the scenes items can be seen HERE. He shared that it took near four years to create the novel due to its complexity, and how additional obstacles were created when turning it into a screenplay. He pulls an “Alfred Hitchcock” with a cameo appearance at the funeral. A second season is yet to be finalized, fingers crossed.
Editor’s Note: KRL recently interviewed Anthony Horowitz about his other book series.
Annika is a brand new police procedural with an engaging twist: a bit of humor rarely seen in a detective drama and the lead character breaking the fourth wall. Uniquely, the television series is based on BBC Radio 4 drama Annika Stranded, also starring Nicola Walker. The audio programs are available online or with the free BBC Sounds app. The broadcast (2013-2020) is thirty-one episodes, each less than fifteen minutes in length, and follows the thoughts and insights of DI Annika Strandhed as she discusses her investigation, myths and legends, word origins, some travelogue moments or history lessons, her life, family, and relationships with people and, of course, the water. Instead of being set in Glasgow, Scotland, like the television show, it is set in Oslo, Norway. Totally engaging, entertaining humor, and it includes a variety of sound effects: boat engines, crowds milling, nature of all kinds. Nicola’s voice is very pleasant, and it’s much like listening to an audiobook. Although she talks to others, any conversation is still complete just hearing her voice. Brilliant narration! Brilliant stories! Some of the inner thoughts have found themselves included in the television show…why not, the writer is the same, Nick Walker. Annika Standed earns 5+/5 Norwegian Winters!
As for the television show, DI Annika Strandhed (Nicola Walker) has been transferred to a new police unit in Glasgow—Scotland Police: Marine Homicide Unit (MHU). She is of Norwegian decent, speaks the language on occasion, and is having troubles as a single mom raising an disgruntled teenager, Morgan (Silvio Furneaux). Morgan is not happy at all about having to move again; she’s moody and acting out, including getting suspended from school. Annika tries to support her daughter’s transition to a new environment, attempts a calm, open manner laced with deprecating humor, but finally, due to their lapses in mother/daughter communication, suggests her daughter see a “neutral” professional.
Annika is the lead detective on the new MHU team with three other investigative detectives and her superior DCI Diane Oban (Kate Dickie). The most senior is DS Michael McAndrews (Jamie Sives), a longtime friend, who had serious designs on the lead position, and although he is extremely capable and works well with the team, it’s obvious he was disappointed about being overlooked. DS Tyrone Clarke (Ukweli Roach), originally from London, requested the assignment, eager to work with Annika whose reputation for closing cases is well documented. But, he learns, however brilliant she is, she is not what he expected. The youngest of the team, DC Blair Ferguson (Katie Leung; Harry Potter), is the techie of the group and eager to learn from Annika. Together the team is confronted with several complex murders all associated in some way with water: a charter boat owner resurfaces in bin bags, an art teacher is found in an abandoned boat, an employee of a Natural Water company is floating in a loch, a writer appears thrown from a bridge, a husband found dead on a party boat, and a woman washed up on shore. Intriguing and complex, and with Annika in the lead, their success rate is high.
Annika Earns 5+/5 Boat Rudders…Brilliant & Entertaining! I absolutely love the show for its clever caseload, all connected to water, well cast characters, especially Nicola Walker, and the humor, wit, and a bit of romance. I greatly enjoyed how Annika spoke directly to the audience sharing her personal insights, inner thoughts, and cleverly connecting the current investigation to classic literature, Norse and Greek mythology, an Ibsen play, manmade structures, and Shakespeare. Her relationships all seem to have a mother-style element as she tries to bring out the best in her two young colleagues as well as holding them accountable for any lapses in judgement. DS McAndrews past interactions makes him a good sounding board since they know each other well, but she is still in charge. The one issue, which is typical for shows with Scottish actors, is that several characters have heavy accents and some pronunciations are difficult to hear. There’s no closed caption option with network television, but context is easy to follow and it didn’t effect my enjoyment. Besides Scotland is beautiful, and I love the accents! At the end of the show, the cast and director offer their insights on various themes, filming, character connections, the value of the Scottish landscape, and using boats and stunts. Nicola actually had to learn to pilot a boat for several scenes. A second season is announced so the finally “OMG” ending should be more openly addressed.
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Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.