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Quarantined: Eccentric British mystery stories pass the time

Nancy Baxter, Senior Editor Hawthorne Publishing

Yes, week after week we have been here inside the Hawthorne Publishing home office with only the giant TV screen for company. Business is down; not many books are sold and new projects lie dormant. Helpers are not here. Indulging our proclivity for mystery and all things English, we took out at free 30-day subscription to “Brit Box.” We can now report on what binge-watching turned up for us in this newly discovered (for us) art form.

PBS had run a few of Elizabeth George’s “Inspector Lynley” series on Indianapolis channel WFYI a few years back. But now: behold! You could watch the whole first year, some six or seven well-produced mysteries. Season Six seemed to be listed on Amazon Prime, but then for us at least, mysteriously disappeared.

I had read all of Elizabeth George’s novels. She is considered by many of us buffs to be the best writer of English mysteries who has recently put pen to paper (a dated reference) in recent years.

The movie versions, done over a period of years just before special effects came in, are a combination of expert adaptation of George’s master works and later versions of some stories and suggested ideas. How do the TV series stack up against the originals novels and how entertaining are they? The answer is pretty well and pretty good in both categories.

Nathaniel Parker plays Thomas Lynley and he is sufficiently lord-like, aristocratic, well educated, while yet still humane and attractive. He’s also a very sharp detective. The TV Lynley is perhaps a little too human, too vulnerable, too affected by the human condition and his own emotions, particularly his ongoing (over many years) love for and eventual marriage of Helen Clyde. I liked the slight diffidence of George’s Lord Lynley, but still this TV Tommy is good.

It’s in the character of Barbara Havers, his blue-collar assistant that the TV editors have diverged from Elizabeth George’s character. The novels’ Havers was chubby and sloppy but astute and effective as a policewoman. Her everyday down-home knowledge and sharp wit are also evident in Sharon Small’s Havers, but Scottish actress Small is too pretty for Havers. Still, we can get used to it, and then she shines as a down-to-earth kitchen pot compared to Nathaniel Parker’s silver-chafing-dish depictions of Lynley.

It was disconcerting to have three different women play Helen Clyde, Tommy’s enduring love, over the years the series was active. What happened there? Google could not provide an answer.

But the rapidly moving one-hour shows (only one, the first, was two hours) provide a variety of settings (the pair is always being consulted to do guest policing in out-of-the-way places with thatched English cottages and picturesque seaside settings,) and clever mystery plots. We could try to keep up with the accents and plot shifts in a foreign county; it stretches a viewer to do this.

I couldn’t discover how one could access the other seasons of this mystery from Britain: I was left ready for more of Lynley and Havers.

 

Nancy Baxter’s own mystery story is set in Indianapolis in the 1890s. It is called Charmed Circle: I895 Indianapolis and is available from Amazon and other outlets.