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Martha Wells

The Invisible Woman


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marthawells

Mystery Guide Part II

See Mystery Guide Part I

One note: So if you have a concern about content - level of violence, etc - you should probably check with someone who has seen the show in question recently. Some of these I haven't seen for a while and my memory is not so great. These reviews are just my opinion, YMMV, etc.

Martha's Guide to TV Mysteries Part II


Nero Wolfe - the A&E version with Timothy Hutton - this is one of my favorite shows. Like the books, it's set in New York in multiple time periods, some 40s, 50s, 60s, and is beautifully filmed. It comes as close as possible to the feel of the books and occasionally does odd things with TV (there are two episodes that start with the same card game and then branch into different stories, for ex.) Nice people do get killed despite Archie and Wolfe's best efforts. (Including one client who is a young kid. That's in "The Golden Spiders.")


Ellery Queen - the version with Jim Hutton, Timothy Hutton's father - This is set in 1940s New York, and since it's a period piece, for an older series it doesn't feel dated. The books were all written by different people, but Hutton (the Jim version) plays the absentminded writerly genius version of Ellery (in some of the books he comes off as a playboy jerk). There was only one season but all the episodes are fun, and there are some that deal with early TV, radio shows, and comic book writing. These are also closer to true cozies, with as little violence as possible and I don't remember any women in jep. Jim Hutton is also very tall and it's interesting to watch him act around it.


The Bletchley Circle - Four women who worked as code-breakers and intelligence analysts at Bletchley Park in WWII try to go on with normal life afterward, when they're forbidden by law to tell anyone what they did, and have to pretend they were secretaries. They get involved with solving murders, and it's really cool. A problem with this show is that to come up with mystery plots for genius mathematicians to solve, you kind of have to be one, and the writer isn't. And there are women in jep bits. I still liked it, though.


Whitechapel - This show frustrates the hell out of me because it could be great but it has some fatal flaws. It's based on the idea that murders are happening in modern day that echo murder cases from Victorian-era Whitechapel. One of the fatal flaws is a huge lack of diversity, especially in the first season. (Apparently there's a season 3 and 4 but they aren't available over here.) I like being able to guess what the Victorian-era case is before they reveal it (and make people yell "WHY DO YOU KNOW THESE THINGS?") and they did one of my favorite cases (young maid leaves house to get something from nearby tavern needed for family dinner, returns to find everyone in the house murdered). But it has a lot of dumb moments. (One episode deals with the film "London After Midnight" and fails to mention that anyone with an intact copy would have to fight off film preservationists armed with money.)


Inspector Morse, Inspector Lewis, Endeavour -
Three different series with overlapping characters, all taking place in Oxford. Inspector Morse ran from 1987 to 2000 with some gaps, then Inspector Lewis (Lewis was Morse's Sergeant) ran for seven seasons plus the pilot and is doing another season, then Endeavour is in it's second season (Endeavour is Morse as a young detective in the 60s) and is showing on PBS now. I don't remember the Morse series that well as I saw it when it first aired on PBS years ago and haven't rewatched it. But I just love Lewis, though Endeavour is a close second. Oxford is filmed beautifully, and Lewis and his sergeant Hathaway (who originally intended to become a priest) indulge in a lot of old guy vs. young guy snark. All three series have a lot of stories dealing with smart people taking on smart/rich people who think they are too smart/rich to be caught. Lewis has the bonus of Rebecca Front (from The Thick of It) as Chief Superintendent Jean Innocent. None of the three series is cozy, though the worst violence is generally off camera. (The pilot episode for Lewis wasn't on NetFlix but was included in the DVD set for the first season.)


Midsomer Murders - It's been on a long time, but yeah. Some of the stories are okay to good, others will leave you staring at what lousy cops these guys are. (There's one episode where they let people wander up to the dead body and gawk at it.) Don't watch it after you watch Inspector Lewis because you'll just want to go watch more Inspector Lewis. (We joked that it's a pain there isn't as many episodes of Lewis as Midsomer Murders, but it probably takes a lot of talented people some time to make an Inspector Lewis episode and a couple of guys in a clown car can toss off a Midsomer Murders in two days, tops.) And there's the racism in the production.


Pie in the Sky - is about a DI (played by Richard Griffiths from Harry Potter) trying to retire so he can cook at his restaurant, but who is forced to come back as a consultant. He works with DS Sophia Cambridge, played by Bella Enahoro, who is awesome. This is a fun one, combining food and mysteries, though some of the cases they deal with are kind of depressing. I haven't seen the last season yet, though I've got the whole thing on DVD.


Next time, I'll try to do at least The Last Detective, Vera, Ripper Street, Rosemary and Thyme, and Touching Evil

I was so incredibly sad that the Nero Wolfe series was cancelled so soon. I love that show (and the books).

I ditto your comments about Lewis & Endeavor. Well, there is an element of coziness to Lewis for me, but I think it's the setting. Despite the crimes portrayed, Oxford - the college and the town - have (or are filmed in a way so that they have) a sort of sereneness to them. And the regular quoting of classical literature definitely puts me in a very happy, contented mood. If I had a Hathaway on hand to quote Romantic poetry to me whenever I needed it, I'd be a much less stress-out person.

(I don't think Endeavor has an ounce of cozy in it, though. They definitely went for "gritty" with that show, and succeeded. It's a great counterpoint to Lewis, imho.)

What I loved the most about Lewis were the little throwback touches to Morse - Lewis' tendency to go to the pub when he needs to think, for ex. :)

I actually like 'Endeavor' because it's not so cozy - Morse was such a screwed-up character that it had to be a little darker to explore his youth.

And I loved Morse and Lewis a great deal because I went to a Southern college which looks a great deal like Oxford (in Sewanee, TN), so every time I watch, it's like going back to campus. :)

i loved that nero wolfe series so much, i bought the box set--the only box set of a tv series i have ever purchased. it was just perfect--timothy hutton is a *great* archie goodwin. it's a tiny bit sexist, but not as much so as the books, and i forgive the books because they are so very wonderful. to me they are a fantasy series, and the world they create is a new york that never existed, but that i like to visit sometimes, just as sometimes i wanted to hang out in Oz, as a child.

I wanted to give Midsomer Murders a chance but the first two episodes played the gay = pervert card and I bailed.

Another show I bailed on quickly was Spiral, because they kept lingering on the naked corpse of the young female victim. Show it once, fine. Murder is a terrible thing and it's worthwhile to show the effect. Show it three times? That's lurid.

I've enjoyed the Jesse Stone mysteries, although the ones based on Robert B Parker's novels are stronger than the ones that come after. The acting is terrific and the stories manage to bypass a pet peeve of mine: the cop who breaks the law to get his job done.

John Nettles, who stars in 'Midsommer Murders' had a long running mystery series before MM. It's called 'Bergerac' and set in the Channel Islands. It's quite fun.

You should also check out 'Inspector George Gently'. It is another that's set in the '60s--northern England. It stars Martin Shaw. And I admit that I will watch just about anything that he stars in. Definitely not a cozy--very gritty and I often wished for subtitles as the dialect can get a bit thick.

Looking forward to your take on 'Ripper Street' . My husband got hooked on that last year.

I've liked _Gently_ too, some interesting stuff in terms of the transition from the England of WWII and rationing to the modern.

I really enjoy the Lewis series - much more than Morse. I watched everything that Amazon Prime had up, and was sorry when the last episode was over. Endeavor is enjoyable, too, but is second to Lewis for me.

I adore Jim Hutton, and loved the Ellery Queen series when it was on. I enjoyed Nero Wolfe, too, and have the DVDs for that.

I watched one episode of Whitechapel, and will probably watch more at some point as long as it's on Amazon Prime, but it didn't grab me as much as I had hoped.

I've never seen the A&E Nero Wolfe. Now I'm tempted . . .

I like Endeavour well enough (though the whole Giant Masonic Conspiracy thing pings bizarrely for an American), but I just don't believe that the character is the same person we saw in Morse. Morse was far too self-centered (not as a horrible person, but in small petty ways) and arrogant, and my experience of people is that those are traits that show up early. So I didn't really buy that the shy, sensitive type they are presenting Endeavour as was Morse.

Also, Whitechapel was okay the first season, but I tried the second season and well, my suspension of disbelief just snapped. I could believe that for one specific case the history of a Victorian crime could be significant, but not repeatedly.

Edited at 2014-07-14 07:24 pm (UTC)

I honestly don't know how good the *mysteries* are, but I just adore Taggart. It's set in Glasgow, and for USians, it may take an episode or two for your ears to tune in to the accents. It ran for a zillion (okay, 28) years and survived several major cast changes.

The American Touching Evil which starred Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice) was also quite good.