For those who like their detectives
to be stylish, suave, and - of course - British, the BBC adaptation
of Ngaio Marsh's novels in Inspector Alleyn Mysteries will fit
the bill nicely. Set shortly after World War II, these stories place
the titular Chief Inspector Alleyn (Patrick Malahide) in the midst of
various high-society crimes.
The Inspector Alleyn Mysteries
strike a reasonable balance between a "period" and a
"modern" feel. The stories are set close enough to our own
time that Alleyn can have a fairly modern approach to solving crimes
without feeling out of place; at the same time, the period setting
adds a touch of glamor to both the plots and the hero. Alleyn is
still the somewhat heroic detective figure, but he's more on the
realistic side of the spectrum, without the dramatic flair and
emphasis on intuition of a Poirot.
The four stories presented here take
on a nice variety of topics; murder is a recurring theme, but the
circumstances and motives are distinct in each. In "Death in a
White Tie," blackmail is causing a stir among the women in
London's high-class social scene, and murder isn't far behind. "Hand
in Glove" is a fairly traditional murder-mystery piece, as
Alleyn investigates the case of a dead body found in a seemingly
peaceful and quaint village. (If we believed everything we saw on
British mystery shows, we'd have to conclude that the most dangerous
places to live in England are small villages with "Green"
in the name.) In "Scales of Justice," a World War I
veteran's memoirs seem to be the cause of murder; someone doesn't
want them published. Finally, "Dead Water" takes Alleyn to
a Scottish island where a power struggle is going on between the
landowner and a would-be entrepreneur who
wants to capitalize on the supposed healing properties of the local
water. Not surprisingly, a death ensues, but there may be more
motives at work than appear at first sight.
The episodes are handled reasonably
well overall, with interesting plots, decently written dialogue, and
solid acting across the board. A few things kept the show from being
as interesting as it could have been, though. For one thing, I wasn't
particularly impressed by the romantic sub-plot of Alleyn and his
lady friend Troy (Belinda Lang). It's probably an important part of
the novels, but I felt that here it was usually a distraction from
the more interesting mystery plot. It's rare that a mystery series
manages to make the detective's personal life feel truly relevant to
the story, and I don't think that this is one of those instances.
The other drawback I see to the
Inspector Alleyn Mysteries is the pacing, which is on the
too-slow side. At almost 100 minutes
apiece, the episodes take quite a while to get going, and feel that
they run a bit too long. The actual plots are interesting, but I
think they'd have been more effective if they'd been more tightly
Set 2 includes four episodes: the
final episode from Season 1 in 1993 ("Death in a White Tie")
and the three episodes from Season 2 in 1994. Oddly, though, the
discs are out of order in the set. The original broadcast order is
"Death in a White Tie" (Disc 1), "Hand in Glove"
(Disc 2), "Dead Water" (Disc 4), and "Scales of
Justice" (Disc 3).
Inspector Alleyn Mysteries is
a four-DVD set, with each disc in its own plastic keepcase inside a
glossy paperboard slipcase.
The episodes appear here in their
original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The print is clean, but the episodes
are a bit soft-looking, with some grain and edge enhancement present.
Contrast is sometimes a bit too heavy, and there's a slight brownish
tint to the picture overall. The overall effect is better than it
sounds from the description; overall, it's watchable but
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is
satisfactory, presenting the dialogue in a clear and clean manner.
On Disc 1, we get a text biography
and booklist for author Ngaio Marsh. All four discs include cast
Set 2 of Inspector Alleyn
Mysteries finishes up the run of the BBC mystery show based on
Ngaio Marsh's novels. Fans of the first set will find the dapper
Chief Inspector Alleyn in charge of four more reasonably interesting
mysteries, and will doubtless want to pick this up. Although it
didn't really hook me, I found the series to be well done, and likely
to please viewers who enjoy British mysteries. I'll give it a mild