Like most members of a certain generation, I can sing a verse or two of the Simon and Garfunkel song “Scarborough Fair/Canticle.” Even those who don’t remember an entire verse will be familiar with the line, “parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme” which is repeated no less than five times throughout the song, which in turn is based on the old English ballad, “Scarborough Fayre.” So a few weeks back as I was flipping through the guide on my television, checking the offerings on my PBS stations, I saw a listing for a show called Rosemary & Thyme. Fearing yet another British comedy I nearly passed it by, but then I noticed that it was squeezed in between Sherlock Holmes and Masterpiece Mystery. I decided it might be worth a look.
Rosemary & Thyme is a delightful, engaging murder mystery series. Rosemary Boxer (Felicity Kendal) and Laura Thyme (Pam Ferris) are two women who, having endured personal setbacks, decide to make a fresh start in life by teaming up to form their own business as gardeners. Not the lawn mowing kind, but rather the “create something magnificent with lush plants and flowers” kind. In every episode they’re working in some exotic and luxuriant garden. And at each location, lo and behold, a murder is committed. Rosemary and Laura are soon in the thick of it. With a bit of eavesdropping here and some sharp inquiries there, our gardeners manage to solve the crime while producing the loveliest gardens.
While as a rule I’m interested not a whit in plants or gardening, I find the dazzling outdoor scenery in Rosemary & Thyme to be remarkably soothing. And the fact that every installment stands on its own brilliantly, adds to the relaxing tone. The gardening business they share and the brief references to the personal lives of Rosemary (single and lost her job as a plant pathologist and lecturer at a college) and Laura (a former police constable; recently divorced after a lengthy marriage) provide a common thread, but each week’s mystery and investigation are unconnected to all others. That is so refreshing. In so many television mystery series I have to remember that character A slept with character B two seasons ago or the entire scene and conversation I’m watching doesn’t make sense. Or else there is a super villain lurking in the background that pops up a few times a season and I’m supposed to remember all about him when he reappears. On the contrary, Rosemary & Thyme allows me to pour a glass of iced tea and settle down to enjoy a classic mystery without horrific bloody scenes and twisted psychological motivations. The mysteries are not tortuously elaborate, and the show is great fun because Rosemary and Laura are likable characters who have a realistic friendship, with all the mutual admiration and mutual exasperation that involves. As the reviewers like to say, “they have great chemistry”.
But, of course once I found this cozy little hour of entertainment, I felt the need to determine how many future episodes await me. This beautifully written and gloriously performed series was cancelled after two and a half years by British television company ITV and only twenty-two episodes exist. Gads! I’ve already seen six episodes. According to my research, the one I saw last week was near the end of the series. I checked my channel guide and WLIW has an episode scheduled for next Tuesday. So, there it is. I live week to week fearing this lovely little show will be pulled off the air here in New York before I have a chance to see every snippet, devour every morsel.
But wait, I’ve heard there is a Rosemary & Thyme short story, “The Case of the Dead Wait,” written by Peter Lovesey and published first in the Daily Mail in 2004 and again in the January 2007 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. So I went to my stash of EQMMs but I’d already given away any magazines older than mid 2010. Then I remembered seeing a Peter Lovesey story on the podcast links on the Ellery Queen website but it was “Say That Again.” Wrong story. I know that I read “The Case of the Dead Wait” four years ago when my copy of EQMM arrived in the mai,l but that was before I discovered the great joys of watching Rosemary and Laura deftly create a garden and solve a murder, with barely a smudge of dirt on their noses to show for it. The search for more Rosemary & Thyme is on!
According to Terrie Farley Moran, writing short mystery fiction is nearly as much fun as hanging out with any or all of her seven grandchildren. One of her recent shorts can be found in the anthology Crimes By Moonlight, Terrie blogs at Women of Mystery.