The new Midsmomer Murders Set 24 is the first one I have seen on Blu-ray, and it looks great in the format. For the uninitiated, Midsomer Murders is a British murder mystery series that has been on the air since 1997. It has only gained a cult audience in the United States on PBS, and that is a shame because it is an excellent show. Actually, the series may be doing better than I think because the US Acorn Media company has been releasing it on DVD and Blu-ray to the domestic market for years now, and presumably doing well with it. The new set contains three 90-minute mysteries on two Blu-ray discs, all from the 2012 – 2013 season.
The series is set in the fictional Midsomer County, an upscale suburban area that seems to be populated almost exclusively with wealthy eccentrics. There are an inordinate number of mysterious murders that take place in Midsomer, and it is up to Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby (John Nettles) and his assistant Detective Constable Ben Jones (Jason Hughes) to solve them. On such classic murder mystery shows as Perry Mason or Murder She Wrote, the cases generally revolved around one murder, and multiple suspects. In Midsomer, there are multiple murders, generally committed to cover up the first one, or for other nefarious reasons, and the actual killer is almost always the one you would least suspect.
“Written in the Stars” is the first entry, and it is a good one. The setting is the Stanton Observatory at the University of Midsomer, where an amateur astronomer is killed during a total eclipse of the sun. DCI Barnaby and DC Jones are there at the Observatory watching the eclipse when a scream is heard, and Jeremy Harper (Tim Wallers) is found dead. Also present at the eclipse are his wife Catrina (Clare Calbraith), a wacky astrologist named Margaret Dormer (Maureen Lipman), who calls herself Mystic Mags, and Lawrence Janson (Harry Hadden-Paton), the director of the University Observatory, with whom Harper had just had an argument. Upon discovering that Harper had been killed with what Mystic Mags calls a piece of a meteorite, Barnaby says “Bag and tag everything,” and we are off on a wild investigation.
The rarified world of championship-level chess tournaments are where the murders of “The Sicilian Defence” occur. The first victim is Harriet Farmer (Jo Woodcock), although she is “just” knocked unconscious, on the night she was set to elope with Finn Robson (Royce Pierreson). She was out for 12 months, and her intended has disappeared. Naturally enough, Finn is the prime suspect. The young Mr. Robson is a big player in the local chess tournaments, and as the story unfolds, Edward Stannington (Nicholas Rowe) and Harriet’s father Daniel Farmer (Richard Lumsden) are found dead with chess codes left behind as clues. In much the same way as we see mothers being outrageously pushy in young ladies’ beauty pageants, we discover their twin “chess-moms.“ Of all the Midsomer Murders episodes I have seen, the conclusion of “The Sicilian Defence” is the most twisted and surprising. To call this one “unexpected” only hints at just how shocking the final revelation is, and I will leave it at that.
The final mystery of the set is “Schooled in Murder.” In 16 years, and nearly 100 episodes, Midsomer Murders has come nowhere near exhausting its store of unusual situations. As the title indicates, this one involves a school, the Midsomer Pastures Preparatory School to be exact, a young women’s prep school. All of the usual ingredients are present, a sadistic headmistress, “mean girls” cliques, and one student who is so verbally bullied that she is scarred for life. But that is just the beginning.
In the opening scene, Deborah Moffat (Martine McCutcheon) interrupts a meeting at the school, then goes to her place of work, a cheese factory, where she is killed by a giant wheel of cheese. As the episode continues and more people in the local cheese industry wind up dead, Jones wonders if they have wandered into a “cheese turf war.“ In this final episode of the 15th season of Midsomer Murders, we discover just how deeply the school and the local cheese industry are interconnected. This episode also marks the final appearance of DS Ben Jones, as the actor Jason Hughes left the series, having been with it since 2005.
The lone bonus feature of the set is a text-based biography of Sykes the dog, who appears in the rare scenes of DCI Barnaby’s home life. The picture looks outstanding on Blu-ray, and is presented in 2.0 DTS-HD MA 1080p 16.9, with 5.1 Dolby Surround sound.
The most remarkable thing about Midsomer Murders to me is the high standards the series continues to achieve, season after season. Actors have come and gone, as is shown here with the departure of Hughes, yet if anything, the mysteries have gotten better and better. After all this time, it is clear that the show is never going to catch on with American audiences the way Downton Abbey has, but thankfully Acorn are making the episodes available for the home market. I believe that Midsomer Murders is the finest murder mystery currently on the air in either country.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00GWXI2RM]