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From The Blog
November 24, 2017
Adventures in Research, Part IV: Killing Pace
Douglas Schofield
November 23, 2017
The X-Files Fanfic: The Stories Are Out There
Joanna Schaffhausen
November 23, 2017
Thanksgiving—America’s Deadliest Holiday
Philip Jett
November 17, 2017
Man Flees Police, Hides Under the Covers, Claims He's "Just Sleeping"
Adam Wagner
November 16, 2017
Back to J. D. Robb's Future
Janet Webb
Showing posts by: Leslie Gilbert Elman click to see Leslie Gilbert Elman's profile
Mon
Sep 11 2017 1:00pm

Endeavour 4.04: “Harvest” Episode Review

Five years before this episode takes place, a car headed toward the country village of Bramford was forced off the road by a military vehicle barreling toward it. The truck didn’t slow down. The car wound up in a ditch, and there was no sign of life from its occupants—a professorial-looking fellow and the scruffy hitchhiker he’d picked up moments before.

Fast-forward to 1967, where a scruffy guy who looks awfully like that hitcher from ’62 is preaching the impending apocalypse—the seventh seal and all that—on an Oxford street corner. In the misty cabin in the woods that we’ve glimpsed throughout this season, tarot cards are being laid: Queen of Pentacles; The Empress; King of Swords; Ace of Wands; Knight of Cups; The Hermit; and finally, The Devil.

Archaeology students digging in the marshland of Bramford Mere unearth a body: male, age undetermined. DCI Fred Thursday (Roger Allam) suspects it might be the remains of Matthew Laxman, a botanist who’d gone missing five years earlier and who was last seen by Nigel Warren, a scruffy hitchhiker he’d picked up on the road to Bramford (Simon Meacock, who turned up recently and scruffily in Agatha Raisin).

Pathologist Max DeBryn (James Bradshaw) begs to differ with Thursday’s hypothesis. While the skeleton might match Laxman’s description, Max says it predates Laxman by some 2,000 years. It’s ancient—not a five-year-old corpse. Still, something about this discovery doesn’t sit well with Thursday. The body had suffered a blow to the head and been garroted and had its throat cut. Seems awfully thorough.

Then, Endeavour Morse (Shaun Evans) spots a pair of eyeglasses in the excavated grave—definitely not ancient. Looks like it’s time to dig a little deeper.

[He’s not only merely dead, he’s really most sincerely dead…]

Mon
Sep 4 2017 11:00am

Endeavour 4.03: “Lazaretto” Episode Review

In the Fosdick ward at Cowley General Hospital, the beds are numbered 1 through 10. They look alike, but Bed 10 is different from the others. People die in Bed 10.

In fact, the hospital staff is tying on a toe tag and carting an unfortunate patient away as this episode opens. “Bed 10’s unlucky,” says the patient safely ensconced in Bed 4. “Five weeks I been here, and I’ve seen three go in that bed.”

Chief Surgeon Sir Merlyn Chubb (David Yelland, aka Hercule Poirot’s butler, George) doesn’t understand why the patients in Bed 10 come in for straightforward surgeries and go out in body bags. Something’s not right here, and if the significant glances traded between nurses and doctors mean anything, the problem just might be Sir Merlyn and his increasingly shaky hands. 

Then again, Mrs. Ethel Zacharides was not in Sir Merlyn’s care, yet she, too, is dead. Found in her living room amidst the tea things some three days after her demise. 

At the scene, pathologist Max DeBryn (James Bradshaw) reports nothing suspicious. DC Endeavour Morse (Shaun Evans), picking up the pieces of her broken china tea set, does not concur. Mrs. Zacharides had company for tea. Whoever that was could have been the last to see her alive. Well, last person anyway. Her parrot, Jeremiah, would have witnessed the whole thing, but all he can say is “Evil Old Cow.”

[From the mouths of birds…]

Mon
Aug 28 2017 10:00am

Endeavour 4.02: “Canticle” Episode Review

“I can’t figure you out,” a 20-something character says to Endeavour Morse (Shaun Evans). “You know that there’s something happening, right? Here, in the world, everywhere. People our age looking for answers. But you … are in a suit.”

“I’m happy in a suit,” Morse replies, buttoning his jacket.

Love is all around, as The Troggs told us, but the dandyish, Carnaby Street, go-ask-Alice, are-you-experienced, transcendental rock and roll circus of 1967 hasn’t infiltrated Endeavour’s private life. He wears a suit and tie even when he’s chopping wood or rowing a boat. At the end of a work day, he’s content to have Wagner waiting for him at home. He might be a solitary man, not in with the “In Crowd,” but he insists he isn’t Mr. Lonely, for what it’s worth.

Thus, our friend Endeavour is out of his element in this week’s mystery, which involves a rock band with all the trippy trimmings. There are drugs, there is dissolution, there are groupies reading Marquis de Sade’s Justine, for goodness sake! Morse is no prude, mind you, but he has good reason to avert his eyes from some of this week’s goings on.

[There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear…]

Mon
Aug 21 2017 10:00am

Endeavour 4.01: “Game” Episode Review

A swimming pool, Joan Thursday leaving home, a welder in a pumping station, Holy Communion, a mainframe computer, a concert, preparations for a chess match, a crime writer reading his latest novel at a bookstore—a flood of disparate images that will coalesce given time…

Endeavour is back. 

And “flood” is the right word for the opening montage because this first episode of the fourth season revolves around water. A refreshing swim, a therapeutic bath, a sacramental font of holy water, the River Cherwell flowing through Oxford, droplets running down a steamy mirror—all have perilous implications.

[The element of life...]

Mon
Jul 31 2017 11:00am

Grantchester 3.06: Episode Review

We conclude this series of Grantchester with preparations for a wedding, although maybe not the wedding you were expecting. It’s Mrs. Maguire (Tessa Peake-Jones) preparing to walk down the aisle with her gentleman friend Jack Chapman (Nick Brimble). Now that her ne’er-do-well husband Ronnie is dead and out of the way, she’s free to wed—although you might wonder why she’d bother. Marriages don’t work out well in Grantchester.

Which brings us to the giant, honking elephant-in-the-room of a question hanging overhead from last week’s episode: What is Sidney (James Norton) going to do about Amanda (Morven Christie)?

She’d given him an ultimatum: choose her or the church. He’s mulling it over. (Sidney’s “dog collar” is chafing. Is that a sign?)

Happily, he’s not resorting to alcohol for comfort as he’s done in seasons past. So, that’s something. This is, however, a situation that’s impossible to resolve to everyone’s satisfaction, and it’s hard to know which route the writers will choose to pursue. In fact, it’s a mystery.

[What’s a mystery?]

Mon
Jul 24 2017 10:00am

Grantchester 3.05: Episode Review

Sidney’s in civvies. The hunky vicar Sidney Chambers (James Norton) has gone AWOL from Grantchester and his duty to his parishioners, not to mention his budding love affair with Amanda (Morven Christie). He’s in the hinterlands, thumbing rides, heading north, bound for Lincolnshire but making a stop at someplace called Larkview Farm to see—of all people—the ne’er-do-well Ronnie Maguire (Charlie Higdon).

This leg of Sidney’s self-styled walkabout is a mission of mercy. 

As you’ll recall, Ronnie capped off his unexpected arrival in Grantchester by stealing Mrs. Maguire’s life savings and disappearing into the night. Sidney intends to recover what Ronnie stole. 

How does Sidney know where to find Ronnie? That’s unclear. (It’s rarely clear how or why Sidney knows what he knows.) Nevertheless, find Ronnie he does in a Romani community where Ronnie has been hiding out for a good ten years. 

Sidney arrives demanding money and expecting Ronnie to obey. Ronnie’s new friends and neighbors have other ideas.

[What doesn’t Sidney know?]

Thu
Jul 20 2017 11:00am

Prime Suspect: Tennison Deserves Prequel Time

It’s been years since we last saw Superintendent Jane Tennison with all her ugly, angry demons on display in Prime Suspect. Helen Mirren left us with an indelible impression of the character created by author Lynda LaPlante—one that can’t truly be replicated. (Sorry Maria Bello, but the American version of Prime Suspect was never going to be a winner.)

Then, along came Endeavour to show us you can go home again, provided you arrive earlier than when you left. Take that favorite character and make him or her simpler, more innocent, more open, less encumbered. Fill in the flesh on the bones of the character’s past. That way there’s less pressure to replicate success and more opportunity to evolve. 

Of course, it helps if you show respect for the original, because you know the audience does. It also helps if you have a great story to tell and a fine cast to tell it. Prime Suspect: Tennison (aka Prime Suspect 1973) delivers on all fronts. 

[Please ma’am, may we have another?]

Mon
Jul 17 2017 10:00am

Grantchester 3.04: Episode Review

“Temptation is the source of all suffering,” Sidney Chambers (James Norton) tells his parishioners in his Sunday sermon.

Well, if that’s true, the hunky vicar must be suffering mightily. He’s never been a guy who could resist temptation. In fact, there she is, in the pews, rolling her eyes and smirking. Yes, it’s a little late for Sidney to be having a crisis of conscience about weak flesh and all. Amanda (Morven Christie) is now a fact of his life in Grantchester, for better or worse. Presumably, we’ll get to the richer or poorer later.

Grantchester is prone to veering off into extensive explorations of the characters’ assorted personal dilemmas, forgetting that it’s billed as a mystery. This episode is one of those instances. So, while we do have a dead body and an investigation to determine how it got that way, most of this hour will be spent on other things. 

[Like we said, for better or worse…]

Mon
Jul 10 2017 12:00pm

Grantchester 3.03: Episode Review

There’s not much in the sleepy village of Grantchester that’s likely to set one’s pulse racing. Hearing a spirited debate about whether to have bingo in the church hall? Watching hunky vicar Sidney Chambers (James Norton) out for his morning run? That pretty much covers it, and both of these things happen before we’re five minutes into this episode.

No one could have predicted armed robbery at the post office, but that’s what happens next. 

Gentle Leonard Finch (Al Weaver) and his friend Hilary Franklin (Emily Bevan) just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time: the post office on the day pensions are paid out and the coffers are full. They didn’t know, of course. They merely went in to pick up a gift Hilary ordered for Leonard all the way from America.

The robber, on the other hand, knew very well what he’d find in the till. This is a premeditated crime if ever there was one. But when the gasmask-wearing hoodlum pistol-whips sweet Leonard Finch … well, that’s something we simply will not tolerate!

With each passing episode of Grantchester, we run lower and lower on good guys. Leave us Leonard at least.

[Take the money and run, already…]

Mon
Jul 3 2017 11:00am

Grantchester 3.02: Episode Review

Nothing says cozy English country village quite like a cricket match on a summer afternoon. Men in white flannels cavorting on the green pitch. Women arranging cakes and sandwiches at the buffet. An adorable pup scampering about.

That’s how we begin this episode of Grantchester. Sidney Chambers (James Norton) has traded his usual vicar’s black for cricket whites. Dickens the pup is up to mischief on the sidelines. Amanda (Morven Christie) and Mrs. Maguire (Tessa Peake-Jones) are looking fresh as the morning. Even the curate Leonard Finch (Al Weaver) is pitching in as the umpire. “He’s very assertive,” gushes Hilary Franklin (Emily Bevan), who took a shine to Leonard in the previous episode. (She might have set her cap for the wrong fellow, but we’ll see how that plays out.)

It all just perfect … too perfect to be real. Indeed, scratch the surface of this slice of English summer day, and you’ll find it’s not as idyllic as it appears.

[Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Rather not…]

Mon
Jun 26 2017 12:00pm

Grantchester 3.01: Episode Review

You might recall that the former archdeacon in Grantchester left under a cloud of “embarrassment” last season. That’s the politest way to describe what occurred. Suffice it to say no one misses him, and his departure means that, this season, Sidney Chambers (James Norton) has a new boss. 

Gabriel Atubo (Gary Beadle, whom you might recognize from EastEnders, The Interceptor, or possibly even Absolutely Fabulous) is the new archdeacon in town. It’s hard to know what’s on his agenda, but it’s a safe bet that he’ll present a new set of problems for Sidney. To start, he pointedly “hopes” he can count on Sidney to lead by example. That’s tough for Sidney when there’s jazz, whiskey, swing dancing, Amanda (Morven Christie), and all the temptations of secular life that make it inconvenient to be a vicar.

Even more discouraging, Atubo seems ready to make life uncomfortable for gentle, good-hearted curate Leonard Finch (Al Weaver), and that would be intolerable. As the list of characters behaving badly grows with each episode, Leonard remains the beacon of decency in Grantchester. What he needs is a shot of self-confidence, not a judgmental superior watching his every move. (Back off, Gabriel.)

Regarding “The Situation” that caused such consternation in the previous episode: she’s now a cuddly, baby girl named Grace, Amanda’s child with her estranged husband. And though Sidney and Amanda are edging toward playing Happy Families, circumstances make a full-fledged relationship impossible. 

“You can’t be a vicar and be with her,” says Mrs. Maguire (Tessa Peake-Jones). “You can’t marry a divorced woman and that’s the truth of it.”

[The truth hurts…]

Mon
Jun 19 2017 11:00am

Grantchester 3.00: Christmas Special Episode Review

Behold, I bring you tidings of great joy … Grantchester has returned. And this episode, which aired in the U.K. last December, opens with a rehearsal for a Christmas pageant. Thus, the aforementioned tidings.

In the past, I’ve been harsh with hunky vicar Sidney Chambers (James Norton) and his pals, which has distressed fans of the series. So, in the spirit of the season—Season 3, if you’re counting—I will endeavor to review these episodes charitably. 

Everyone’s preparing for Christmas 1954. Sidney and the curate Leonard Finch (Al Weaver) struggle with the lights for the tree. Mrs. Maguire (Tessa Peake-Jones) is baking up a storm. Cathy Keating (Kacey Ainsworth) has her eye on a telly for the family, but Geordie (Robson Green) vetoes the idea. And isn’t Dickens the puppy a big, handsome boy now?

Yet casting a shadow over the holiday preparations is a certain elephant in the room, which everyone chooses to call “The Situation.” (You can hear the capital letters whenever it’s mentioned.)

[There is freedom only in a situation…]

Mon
Aug 22 2016 11:30am

Inspector Lewis 8.03 Series Finale: “What Lies Tangled” Episode Review

Youthful professor Adam Capstone, being all perky first thing in the a.m., glances out his office window to see a young woman cast a dubious look in his direction. Paying her little mind, he goes to his desk and opens an innocuous-looking package that came in the morning mail. Only, that package isn’t innocuous at all. It contains an explosive device that...

Boom!

We have our first corpse in “What Lies Tangled,” the this-time-we-mean-it final episode of Inspector Lewis.

Everything here is tangled up in knots, mathematical knots that are the basis for a field of study known as knot theory. It’s a complicated, mind-bending thing that even smarty pants DI Hathaway (Laurence Fox) can’t explain easily.

The central question, which we do understand, is this: Who would want to murder a 34-year-old professor of geometric topology?

[You might better ask, “Who wouldn’t?”]

Mon
Aug 15 2016 11:30am

Inspector Lewis 8.02: “Magnum Opus” Episode Review

If the Morse-Lewis-Endeavour universe has taught us anything, it’s that there’s a never-ending supply of Oxford-related philosophers and scholars whose work can inspire murder mysteries. For “Magnum Opus,” inspiration comes from Charles Williams, a cohort of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, and, with them, a member of the Inklings literary group at Oxford in the 1930s. The prolific Williams wrote poetry and prose, fiction and nonfiction. “Theology, supernatural novels, and he was a bit of a mystic,” D.I. Hathaway (Laurence Fox) helpfully explains to D.I. Lewis (Kevin Whately) and to us.

Williams espoused a concept he called Co-inherence, which holds, to quote one character, “that we are all spiritually connected and can, through ritual, share suffering; ease one another’s burdens.” As in Galatians 6:2 “Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” That symbolic transfer of pain or regret (or guilt) is an awfully appealing philosophy for someone carrying the weight of past suffering or mistakes (or crimes). It’s also a tantalizing main ingredient for an episode of Inspector Lewis.

Add a heaping dollop of alchemy and pinches of Edgar Allan Poe and Carl Jung. Sprinkle with some A.E. Waite, noted mystic and co-creator of the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck. Fold in the requisite amount of intellectual snobbery, student high jinks, and a choice guest star or two, and you have the perfect Morse-Lewis-Endeavour concoction.

[Final season to taste...]

Mon
Aug 8 2016 12:00pm

Inspector Lewis 8.01: “One for Sorrow” Episode Review

Archaeological excavations are underway at Oxford, and the student diggers have unearthed something they probably didn’t expect to find: a dead body wrapped in recycling bags. 

It’s enough to send police cars screaming to the scene, followed at a slightly less frantic pace by Inspector Lewis (Kevin Whately) and his no-longer-unrequited love, pathologist Laura Hobson (Clare Holman). 

“Do we make a wish?” asks Lewis, peering down into the old stone well where the body was stashed.

“I did,” says Dr. Hobson wistfully. “It involved gin and a slice of lemon.”

Poor Dr. Hobson. She might not have gotten what she wished for, but Lewis fans did. We got another series of Lewis on Masterpiece Mystery

[Gin and lemon optional...]

Mon
Jul 11 2016 11:00am

Endeavour 3.04: “Coda” Episode Review

At the gangster’s funeral, police officers and journalists are tucked none too discreetly behind trees and tombstones—but not Endeavour Morse (Shaun Evans). He’s off taking his sergeant’s exam, as he promised his boss Fred Thursday (Roger Allam) he would. And, ever the smarty pants, he finishes so quickly that he has time to do the crossword as well.

Thursday scans the cast of characters at the funeral with disgust. These are just the type of thugs that left him with a bullet lodged precariously inside him. “They’re all villains,” he growls. (A policeman’s lot is not a happy one.)

Meanwhile, somewhere in Oxford, the housewives gather for bingo with their favorite cheeky caller Paul Marlock. And, at the Wessex Bank, Cedric Clissold, of Clissold Fashions, arrives to collect the cash for his company’s payroll.

It’s all more or less business as usual in Endeavour. Thus, we know we’ll barely make it through another minute without another corpse.

[When your number is up...]

Mon
Jul 4 2016 11:00am

Endeavour 3.03: “Prey” Episode Review

Bach’s “Mass in B Minor” wafts through our speakers as the montage begins. A blond woman; a hedge maze; a dark-haired woman pushing a baby carriage; an au pair who seems suspiciously attentive to the father of her charges; a woman in a hospital bed connected to life-support; a scientist in a lab; a tent in the woods; Spanish lessons; dead animals; more dead animals; and Endeavour Morse (Shaun Evans) in a dreary flat, with a view of a brick wall and Bach on the turntable.

It’s June 5, 1967, day one of what would become known as the Six-Day War in the Middle East. It also happens to be the fourth anniversary of a crime in which a young woman was beaten and left for dead. That unsolved case continues to plague D.I. Fred Thursday (Roger Allam). So, when the au pair, a Danish girl named Ingrid Hjort, is reported missing and her last whereabouts were near where the earlier attack occurred, Thursday naturally sees a link.

That’s just one of many dots that will have to be connected in this hunt for a killer. The hedge maze at the start is an appropriate image. “Prey” takes some sharp turns and tantalizing detours en route to the heart of the mystery.

[Who knows where the trail will lead?]

Mon
Jun 27 2016 2:00pm

Endeavour: 3.02 “Arcadia” Review

An artist named Simon Hallward is sleeping peacefully in his flat when the clock strikes 5 a.m. and the place goes up in flames. Accidental or deliberate? You can guess what our friend Endeavour Morse (Shaun Evans) thinks.

His suspicion is enough to convince D.I. Fred Thursday (Roger Allam) that Hallward might have been done in by someone else—and from what we’ve seen, murder seems a likely assumption.

Endeavour has himself a case. He also has himself a new colleague, one WPC Shirley Trewlove (Dakota Blue Richards, late of The Golden Compass and Skins). If her name is any indication, we have a pretty good idea where this will lead. (We know by now that characters in Endeavour are rarely named arbitrarily.) Morse has already pronounced her work “commendably thorough.” That’s a veritable valentine.

One person who hasn’t been receiving valentines is Leo Richardson (Richard Dillane), head of the Richardson’s supermarket chain. Someone has been leaving threatening letters for him in his stores. A rumor that Richardson’s is selling embargoed sugar from Rhodesia brings protestors out in force. And the merchandise in Richardson’s stores has been tampered with. The consequences are dire—someone’s already died from the tainted food.

Things are turning ugly in Series 3, Episode 2 of Endeavour. And that’s not even counting the bloater paste Mrs. Thursday packed for Fred’s lunch.

[Cheese and pickle suddenly sounds mighty appealing...]

Mon
Jun 20 2016 11:00am

Endeavour 3.01: “Ride” Episode Review

When we last saw our hero Endeavour Morse (Shaun Evans) in Series 2, Episode 4, “Neverland,” things did not end well. His boss and mentor, D.I. Fred Thursday (Roger Allam), was critically injured and Morse had been put in prison. That sort of experience will change a man. It certainly changed Morse.

He’s since been released, his named cleared, and the case files sealed for 50 years. (They can be opened in 2017, if you’re counting.) Still not ready to rejoin the police force, he’s essentially gone into hiding in a “dacha” by a lake, where, being Morse, he chops wood while wearing a shirt and tie.

Endeavour being Endeavour, the opening minutes of “Ride” are jammed with seemingly unrelated events that we know will coalesce at some point. Newsreel footage of daredevil Donald Campbell’s death while trying to set a new water speed record tells us this is 1967. The gent being released from prison wearing a spiffy suit points to a gangster element in the story. A shadowy figure rolls a gold coin through his fingers. There’s a stately home, a casino, and a traveling carnival. There’s also a “rather toothsome” red-headed bus conductor named Jeannie Hearne. Why she might be targeted for murder is anyone’s guess.

Then, from out of nowhere, comes Morse’s college friend Anthony Donn. He invites Morse for a drive to a surprise destination. With nothing else on his agenda, Morse agrees to go along for the ride, only to stumble upon his old police colleagues investigating Jeannie’s murder in the woods near his house.

[Fasten your seatbelts, et cetera...]

Thu
Jun 16 2016 10:00am

Will We Dig The Tunnel?

In addition to the return of Endeavour on Masterpiece Mystery this week, PBS will air The Tunnel, a French-English co-production from 2013. If the initial episodes are any indication, this police procedural might be worth digging into. Fair warning to those who prefer their mysteries on the mild side, however—there’s uncomfortable stuff ahead.

We begin near Calais, France, with an ordinary worker on an ordinary day at the Eurotunnel between England and France. Things seem quiet enough, until he spots the body of a woman in the service tunnel intentionally placed on the line that marks the border between England and France.

The French police investigative team, led by Elise Wassermann (Clémence Poésy), recognizes the woman immediately as a high-profile member of the French parliament, an anti-immigration hardliner. “Her head is in France,” Wassermann tells her English counterpart, Karl Roebuck (Stephen Dillane), as they view the body. “She’s French. So it remains a French investigation.”

Le Boom. That’s him schooled.

Wassermann’s single-minded fervor for her work intimidates even her own colleagues. Roebuck, on the other hand, takes a laissez-faire approach. It’s fairly evident that if he were pushed to back off, he would go quietly—only stopping to pick up some croissants for the wife and kids at home. All in a day’s work, really. Except, when the crime scene team tries to move the body, they find the dead woman has been neatly sawn in half. A few minutes later, we learn that the “body” is composed of two distinct halves from two different women: the French MP and an English prostitute.

This is now officially an international incident. Time to put diplomacy into action.

[Hands—and other body parts—across the water...]