Adapted from the original works of Caroline Graham, ITV’s Midsomer Murders series began with film adaptations of the original detective stories. After completing all seven of the original novels, the television series continued to create new cases for DCI Barnaby and his team. Since then, a wide array of new characters have emerged, and when actor John Nettles decided to retire, Tom Barnaby was replaced by a new DCI, John Barnaby (Tom’s cousin) played by Neil Dudgeon. Airing every season since 1997 on British television, these series are now available in the US on various streaming platforms and appear regularly on PBS. Small Mercies originally aired in 2009, and stars the original Barnaby (John Nettles) accompanied by DS Ben Jones (Jason Hughes). DS Jones was not one of the characters in the novels, but he appeared in 50 episodes of the television series.
Small Mercies opens on an old man walking through a very intricate, miniature, replica village. As he proceeds through the village he situates the figures who have fallen out of place (a firefighter on a ladder, a towns-person in the middle of the path, etc.) The man continues past a miniature rail station, which he finds to be covered in blood. As he turns along the path, he is shocked to discover the body of a man, obviously dead, covered in blood and tied down. The body is arranged to look like a scene from Gulliver’s Travels, strapped to the ground with ropes and stakes, and surrounded by miniature figures from the replica village.
Soon DCI Barnaby is on the scene, followed by DS Jones and DC Gail Stevens (Kristy Dillon). The three detectives set about interviewing potential suspects around the village of Little Worthy, including the model village groundskeeper, the local school teacher, the innkeeper, his wife, his teenage daughter, and two elderly sisters who own most of Little Worthy. More than a few references are made to the mundane nature of village life, as when teenage goth-girl Christa Palfrey (Matilda Sturridge) exclaims the dead body found in the model village is “probably some poor sod died of boredom.” Or when Mike Johnson (Jesse Birdsall) states the local boat race is “the one village fun day.” However, there is more to Little Worthy than meets the eye, and as the body count rises, more than one families’ scandals are revealed. The village will never be the same again.
Small Mercies is an excellent example of why Midsomer Murders has continued for as long as it has. The show hooks the viewer with a murder in the opening scene, and the method with which characters are dispatched is incredibly creative. More than a few red herrings make their appearance before Barnaby realizes who the killer is, and all of the characters bring something special to the story. The cast includes Margaret Tyzack as the resident busy body, judgmental and pious, in the role of spinster Harriet Compton. David Ryall plays the sweet (and slightly “daft”) groundskeeper.
This show is perfect for those who enjoy the way a cozy mystery reveals the darker side of life, lurking just beneath the veneer of polite society. The main characters, DCI Barnaby, DS Jones and others, are heartwarming and dedicated, and the juxtaposition between the picturesque English countryside and the grisly murder scenes further conveys the unsettling tone of the series. Midsomer Murders: Small Mercies succeeds in portraying that which cozies do best, the violence of humdrum, everyday life.
“Small Mercies.” Midsomer Murders, created by Caroline Graham, written by Peter J Hammond, performances by John Nettles, Jason Hughes, Kristy Dillon, Matilda Sturridge, Jesse Birdsall, Margaret Tyzack, and David Ryall, series 12, episode 71, 2009.
List of Midsomer Murders Episodes. Wikipedia. 2019.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Midsomer_Murders_episodes#Series_12_(2009%E2%80%9310) accessed 16 Feb. 2019