Welcome to Wildemarsh, a picturesque village in southern England. Here, Matilda was raised by her three loving but meddling aunties above a bookshop amusingly called "Murder Ink". The store specialises in crime fiction which coincidentally, is exactly what this new series is about. Queens of Mystery is Acorn TV's latest offering.
The lead role of Detective Sergeant Matilda Stone is played by Olivia Vinall (The Woman in White). "Murder in the Dark" is the title of the first two chapters. They are not called episodes; this cheeky little device harks to the literary theme running throughout the series. These two chapters centre around Aunt Beth Stone played by Sarah Woodward, who "isn't the saint you think she is". She is a crime novelist attending the local Literary Festival called "Golden Pickaxe for the best crime writer of the year". You'll find that fiction can be so much more interesting than real life. If you are a bibliophile like me, you will delight in the many literary allusions, such as the Edgar Allan Poe Appreciation Society, as he was the founding father of the modern detective story.
Filmed on location at Lympne Castle in Kent, this is a world of literary agents, plots and characters, There is also murder, gambling and drinking aplenty. Although the village is a quaint place with croquet on the lawn, floral displays and a windmill, it is a dangerous place to live as there is at least one murder per week, like that other cute, but real, English town in Midsomer Murders. "There's been a murder," is declared, much like in Taggart, the Scottish detective series (but without the Glaswegian accent).
You may know this universal truth: good artists copy; great artists steal. Let's just say that there are a lot of homages to other shows in the genre. Can you spot actress Nancy Carroll who plays Lady Felicia in Father Brown, another amateur sleuth series? And the music is redolent of the Randall and Hopkirk theme tune.
Running through this contemporary murder mystery is a subplot or a story within a story. about Matilda's missing mother Eleanor. One of the few clues is a mysterious Japanese Haiku poem of three lines (5/7/5 syllables): A silent spectre Its watchful eye casts shadows Light cannot evade.
Matilda has been trying to solve the riddle since she was a child. As in all good mysteries, there are other clues – a feather, a cigarette, a safe box. There are also recurring motifs: a raven and Matilda's mother's old Morris Minor "Woody", to name a couple.
The next two chapters are entitled "Death by Vinyl". They revolve around Catherine Stone, a cool rock chick who is an artist and graphic novelist. Julie Graham who plays Cat, the glittery rock star aunt is a fine actress who starred in two of my favourite UK dramas: Bletchley Circle and Shetland. Musical references sing out at you, for example, '80s New Wave, Ringo (a missing dog), Janis Joplin's jacket, "Troubled Waters", old fashioned vinyl records, "backmasking" lyrics, and so on.
You may recognise the distinctive pyramid-like 'Kent House' from Grand Designs' Royal Institute of British Architects' Awards. It was filmed on location at Waddesdon Manor in Kent.
Pathologist Dr Daniel Lynch, played by Andrew Leung, is the love interest. However, the role of the male actors in this series is like that of ballroom dancers – to support and make the female leads look good. There is strong casting by Louise Cross (no relation – not that I know of anyway) of women in a man's world. Think girl power like Bananarama or the Bangles, rather than the Spice Girls.
In these chapters, there is everything a decent detective story needs:
Plenty of mystery; and
Even some tunes.
You know it's all about sex, drugs and rock and roll, plus a classic R 'n' R death – drowning.
"Smoke and Mirrors", Chapters 5 and 6, are about aunt Jane (Siobhan Redmond), an intellectual, researcher and hacker. As the other episodes centred on literature and music, these chapters are about drama and the stage rights to Jane's novel. There is a play rehearsal of The Macbeth Duality at the Corn Exchange Theatre 1894 (filmed at Hoxton Hall, the Broadway Theatre). Have fun picking out the dramatic references such as the Scottish Play, and characters called Sir Lawrence and Sir Kenneth, The tables are turned and critics are panned for once. However, tragedy and untimely death is a grave concern. It brings new light brought to the expression 'dying on stage' Is the pen mightier than the sword?
The title sequence sets the scene with a beautifully designed pop-up collage by artist and illustrator. Each episode is 45 minutes duration. I found the narration by Juliet Stevenson amusing, and she gets most of the wittiest one-liners. I also enjoyed the many visual jokes and puns e.g. the 'Farewell to Arms' Arms pub. As the series does, I'll leave you with a question: Who is the Raven?
By the way, no animals were harmed in the making of this series, just some humans.