Midsomer Murders- Strangler's Wood


Class season two episode works a treat

When the body of a girl who has been strangled with a tie is found in Ravens Wood near the village of Midsomer Worthy it evokes memories of three similar murders that took place nine years ago. Has the same killer started again and, if so, why did they stop? Anthony Horowitz shows the early promise that would later bring us Foyle’s War and Alex Rider amongst others and this episode is very much a precursor to his economic style. There isn’t a moment that’s out of place, a line of dialogue that isn’t significant and the clues are laid out for us to work out as we go along. At precisely the same moment as Barnaby does viewers will work out who the killer is.


Yet however efficient the script is it is never at the expense of characters and Horwitz creates a group of people, at least four of whom could the murderer and then diverts us with the sleight of hand you’d expect from a magician. Sometimes when writers do this it can be annoying because they are clearly drawing attention to how clever they are by making the antagonist someone you never suspected but Horowitz shows that you can write this way without making the reveal unlikely. In fact when it comes it makes perfect sense.

This is from the second season, first shown in 1999, and apart from a key plot point relying on an answering machine and the omnipresent milkman it hasn’t dated much at all. Directed by Jeremy Silbertson one of the best of Midsomer Murders’ many helmers it rattles along as this is the perfect combination of writer and director. The victim is a Brazilian model called Carla who arrived in the UK for reasons initially unknown, made a couple of key phone calls, spend one night at the posh and suitably floorboard creaky Fox and Goose Hotel before her demise.

In a great introduction we’re introduced to most of the principal characters by way of a milkman doing his early rounds and we see each of the characters in a different way. There’s former Inspector George Meakham (played by a sturdy and determined Frank Windsor) who is still obsessed with the case nearly a decade later because it was never solved. He is seen wandering about the woods when there’s a full Moon sporting a striped tie similar to that found on the victims. What’s more he has a drawer full of them at home. Surely it’s him? But wait, there’s troubled married couple John and Kate Merrill (Nicholas Farrell and Phyllis Logan, both tremendous) whose disintegrating relationship is brought into focus when his watch is found at the scene and he can’t fully account for his whereabouts. Or what about at the hotel were Carla was staying where we find manager Leonard Pike (Peter Eyre giving it his most haunted look) who early on seems to be lying and has a very shifty countenance.

There are other notable character as well including Debbie Chazen giving an amusing turn as Portuguese au pair Anna. I suppose this would be frowned on these days as she’s English but she does specialise in different accents and languages. There’s also Jeremy Clyde whose  brand of upper class casual bonhomie made him a must-see in many roles over the years. Here he’s the boss of a tobacco company more concerned with business than people.  With Bullard away, Toby Jones makes the most of a temporary pathologist who seems to relish the job in a salacious manner though is short on the details Barnaby wants.  

It is a fantastic cast and these are the days when Inspector Barnaby himself was more active physically so the pace is kept to a good speed. John Nettles has named this as one of his favourite episodes and it’s easy to see why. He is given a little more to do than usual as the script offers more than just standard questions for him to ask. The rapport between Barnaby and Troy remains a benchmark because both actors use every opportunity to show these are human beings and not just detectives. Troy’s driving also still needs work, there’s a funny moment when the car you expect to go forwards does the opposite!

The way the plot gradually evolves from a legacy killing to something different yet equally sinister is enough to hold the attention while Silbertson’s directing always captures the underlying mystery of the countryside. The sub plot of Barnaby continually missing planned arrangements with his daughter Cully (while Joyce is away) sparkles too. The episode includes an amusing Brazilian advert that the production team put together in which Carla strikes a match on the stubble of tough looking bloke in a bar! Best of all a cheeky Pyscho homage with a twist sees off one victim.

Throughout macabre touches are kept to a minimum yet there are still tense moments but this is a dialogue led episode and it to Horowitz’ credit that he keeps us interested all the way through. Perhaps the only slight niggle is that Carla’s South American fame is described to Barnaby but nobody knows who she is, then agin these are pre social media days. The script also offers a different sort of ending eschewing a melodramatic climax for something that at least restores a little humanity to the murderer though by then there’s quite a trail of victims. 

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