Right now, I’m making my way through Season 1 of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries on Netflix. I’m thoroughly enjoying it. It’s about a wealthy flapper who solves crimes in 1920s Australia. Miss Phryne Fisher is a fun character, full of vim and vigor, a sense of justice, and a taste for wilder sort of men. Also, I want all of her outfits. The mysteries in themselves are okay. I’m really watching for the characters. And the soundtrack is top notch. They are based on books by Kerry Greenwood who I have not had the pleasure of reading yet.
It got me thinking about the other murder mystery TV shows that I have enjoyed over the years. I’m going to put together a short list of my top four favorites shows. Some you may have heard of, some you may not have. Neither Sherlock nor Psych is not on the list because I think both are sufficiently well known and loved. My taste tends towards historical settings or unusual situations.
- Nero Wolfe
This is my all time favorite TV show, not just in the murder mystery series category. Based on the books by Rex Stout, Nero Wolfe is a tour de force. The detective is the gourmand, genius Nero Wolfe, played by Maury Chaykin, who tends his orchids and never leaves his NY brownstone. To make Nero Wolfe palatable, there is the amazing Archie Goodwin, his fast talking, milk drinking, brilliant legman, played by the handsome Timothy Hutton. The series is clever, well cast, and beautifully filmed. It’s an unusual sort of show because with the exception of the regular characters in the books, the same actors appear in various episodes as new characters. The head of the FBI in one episode is the barber in the next. And there are many spats and hats.
- Jonathan Creek
This British TV show is about Jonathan Creek, a brilliant but antisocial recluse who designs magic tricks for a womanizing magician. Did I mention he’s eccentric? He even lives in a windmill. Jonathan Creek ends up being drawn into solving murders by Maddie Magellan, a crafty journalist. The cast is great; Alan Davies is fabulous as Jonathan Creek and Caroline Quentin as Maddie makes you want to love and hate her all the time. The murders are pretty clever; they are some form of the locked room whodunit. Some involve bodies mysterious appearing in strange places, or disappearing. Generally, all the deaths seem impossible or improbable. It’s a lot of fun.
- Brother Cadfael
The British may have a strong monopoly on murder mysteries. Maybe they just know how to cast them. Brother Cadfael is none other than the incredible, Shakespeare actor, Derek Jacobi. This series based on the books by Ellis Peters is about a wise Benedictine monk in Shrewsbury Abbey in Medieval England. Brother Cadfael is a former crusader who decided to take the cloth for a quieter life. However, the nearby town is constantly troubled by deaths. Plucky and compassionate Brother Cadfael solves the murders and assists the young lovers. It’s sweet, lovely mystery series set in the Medieval times.
- The Number One Ladies Detective Agency
This series is also based on the books by Scottish writer Alexander McCall Smith. It’s about Mma Precious Ramotswe, played by the wonderful Jill Scott, who starts her own private detective agency in Botswana. The episodes tend to be a series of mysteries tied together. There aren’t as many murders in the series as I would like but the characters and setting are so charming that I can forgive it. The mysteries aren’t as deep as Nero Wolfe or Jonathan Creek. However, there is such a gusto for life in this series, it is well worth watching for that alone.
Now if they could make a murder mystery series out of Jeeves and Wooster with Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, my life would be complete.