Acorn Media // 2006 // 372 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // September 10th, 2009
"I have to tell you there is a possibility that your son did not kill
"I could have told you that."
I'm coming in late here -- my first exposure to Inspector Barnaby's cases is Midsomer Murders: Set 13 -- but it has a familiar ring to it. Clues that others overlook put dedicated D.C.I. Tom Barnaby (John Nettles, Bergerac) on the trail of murderers amid the villages and towns of Midsomer County, which is tucked away in some once-rural corner of England that's feeling the pressures of modernity. The stories are based on novels by Caroline Graham. While this is Set 13, the episodes featured here are from Series 10, back in 2006-2007.
Midsomer Murders: Set 13 has four movie-length episodes:
* "Dance with the Dead"
A man's body is found in an antique car at an abandoned airfield. The crime scene suggests there was a woman in the car. Barnaby is looking for her, but he's not sure whether she's another victim or the killer.
* "The Animal Within"
The disappearance of a wealthy man coincides with the appearance of his niece from Philadelphia. Why had he told his staff the niece was dead, and how did he get a recent photo of her if her family has been out of touch with him for forty years?
* "King's Crystal"
As Barnaby's daughter Cully appears in Hamlet, a son inquires into the death of his father and chafes over his mother's hasty remarriage. A masonic dagger used as a murder weapon has Jones renewing his ties to the local lodge to investigate.
* "The Axeman Cometh"
Barnaby's only at the local music festival to see his favorite band perform, but the electrocution of a singer (Suzi Quatro, Happy Days) means he's on duty, especially when he notices a hole drilled in the floor which suggests it's murder.
From what I've seen here, Inspector Tom Barnaby isn't quite the colorful rascal found in A Touch of Frost, a similar series I've reviewed recently. He's a focused detective who has a quiet, patient manner and winces when he rubs a deceased man's father the wrong way at a crime scene. Barnaby lets loose in "The Axeman Cometh," playing air guitar as he recalls his own days as a musician and blues fan, but John Nettles doesn't get the chance to show off much in a role that tends toward "Just the facts, ma'am." Still, he's not quite a refugee from Law & Order, as the DVD box blurb suggests. There are a few character bits as Barnaby deals with the sarcasm of his daughter Cully (Laura Howard, Soldier, Soldier), an aspiring actress, and D.I. Ben Jones (Jason Hughes, Killing Me Softly), his young partner.
What seems to have kept viewers tuned in for all those years is the portrait of rural life. Midsomer is a place where Barnaby can get an important bit of information by hanging out in the pub or attending a local dance. He could also ask his wife (Jane Wymark, Poldark), who seems in tune with the local gossip. The writers and actors take the time to flesh out the many characters who wander through, making each episode as much the story of a visitor from Philadelphia, a grieving son, or a musician as a story about Inspector Barnaby. Midsomer Murders also has some interesting mysteries, although I was getting a little tired of the show's standard plot gimmick, the second murder that reveals clues to the first.
Shot in widescreen, Midsomer Murders looks and sounds good. Establishing shots tend to add a little bit to the character of the area and the mood as they look in on a deserted airfield, a wedding, or a music festival. While there's some interesting scenery, it's never shown simply for the pretty pictures.
There aren't any major extras, but there are text bios on the stars, the author, and key guest stars.
It's not bad, but ask yourself if you need to get hooked on one more British police procedural.
The odd release schedule is as much of a puzzle as the stories. Why can't Acorn Media do a whole season set instead of stretching things out?
Inspector Barnaby has been quietly on the case since 1997, and there's no reason to expect he'll retire anytime soon. While John Nettles doesn't steal the show in any way, that could make it a safer bet, since the show doesn't live or die by how much you like his character. If you're looking for a good mystery, it's worth a look; it's simply a well-written show.
As you might have figured out if you'd been hanging out at the pub, not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2009 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 372 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Text Bios