Midsomer Murders: Set 23 DVD Review: Britain’s Finest Mystery Series

For murder mystery fans, I believe there is no better show on the air right now than Midsomer Murders. The English series has not crossed over in popularity the way Downton Abbey has, which is a pity. Midsomer does have its own share of American fans however, as is proven by the Acorn company’s continued release of it on DVD. They are now up to their 23rd set, a three-DVD collection with the elegant title Midsomer Murders: Set 23.

The episodes are more like made for TV movies than anything else, and each runs approximately 90 minutes. The three included here are “The Dark Rider,” “Murder of Innocence,” and “Death and the Divas.” They are from the 15th series (or season) of the program, which first aired on the ITV network during the 2012 – 2013 season.

Although Midsomer Murders airs on PBS, I have had a hard time finding it regularly on my local station. So I have taken great interest in these sets as a way of keeping up with the show. It is surprising to me that it has never really taken off here in the States, for a couple of reasons. The first is that it is extremely well done; I have seen somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 different mysteries and have never been disappointed. The other reason is just how long it has been on the air. The show debuted back in 1997 and is still going strong.

The biggest change came in 2011, when the original lead John Nettles left. His character was DCI Tom Barnaby and was replaced by Neal Dudgeon as Detective Chief Inspector John Barnaby. In the show, John is Tom’s younger cousin. His protégé is Sergeant Ben Jones (Jason Hughes). Hughes has been with the show since 2005.

Unexpected twists and turns are the name of the game in Midsomer, and this tradition is upheld nicely in “The Dark Rider.” It had been a few months since I watched an episode when I got this set, and I did not realize how much I missed it until I watched “The Dark Rider.” The fictitious, wealthy enclave of Midsomer County is presented as something of a small town, with all of the attendant gossip and prejudices that seem to go with such an place.

The aristocratic DeQuntteville family are the subjects of “The Dark Rider.” The title of the episode refers to what appears to be a headless horseman who is busily murdering people. The big event is a reenactment of the Civil War, but will any of the family live to see it? Red herrings are a hallmark of this series, and “The Dark Rider” is filled with them. It is an excellent introduction to the program, and one reason is the scenery. Quite simply, the English landscape has never been so beautifully shown.

One does not need to be a long-time fan of the show to see that a local drug dealer is being set up for a series of murders in “Murder of Innocence.” The man has just been released from jail and had vowed revenge on those who had sent him there. He had a list, and Sgt. Jones’ name is on it. When the people on the list begin turning up dead, he is the obvious suspect. But the guy has irrefutable alibis for two of these, so Barnaby must look elsewhere. The resolution is one of the most unexpected I have ever seen and quite ingenious.

Sibling rivalry is at the heart of “Death and the Divas,” and one has to wonder if the Collins sisters (Joan and Jackie) served as models. The diva is a Hollywood superstar, and her sister is a writer. Rather than writing trashy novels though, Stella Harris’ (Sinead Cusack) forte is horror film scripts. In wonderful Midsomer style, the murders follow her plots. Once again, the culprit is the last person one would suspect, although as DCI Barnaby explains it during the conclusion, it all makes perfect sense.

The main bonus feature is a behind-the-scenes featurette for “Death and the Divas” (15 minutes), in which Dudgeon takes us through the episode. He is joined by producer Jo Wright, actor John Carson and others. There is also an audio commentary for “The Dark Rider” with Dudgeon and director Alex Pillai.

One of the blurbs about Midsomer Murders on the cover calls it “Absolutely addictive.” I could not agree more. From what I understand, these sets are Acorn’s bestselling titles, and I can see why. It is a very rare thing indeed to see a show that has maintained such a high standard for so many years. I watch and review these sets every time a new one is released, and say the same thing each time. If you are a fan of mysteries, you need to see Midsomer Murders. It really is as good as it gets.

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Greg Barbrick

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