From the "golden age" of the British mystery comes a hard-working Scotland Yard detective whose breeding and bearing give him unique access to the fashionable world in which these stories are set. Drawing on her love of theatre and art, New Zealand novelist Ngaio Marsh created elegant crime-puzzlers full of quirky characters with hidden agendas, all brought meticulously to life in this BBC series. The keen intelligence and subtle persistence of Chief Inspector Alleyn (Patrick Malahide, The Singing Detective) are complemented by the insights of his independent lady friend, artist Agatha Troy (Belinda Lang, To Serve Them All My Days), and the loyalty of his partner, Detective Inspector Fox (William Simons, Sergeant Cribb).
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What happened to the arsenic? What about the red paint on the banister, or that horrid little book about how to embalm a corpse? Such questions are, of course, best left to Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn (Patrick Malahide) of Scotland Yard, who puts on his "serious suit" to solve four baffling mysteries in this quartet of episodes from the exemplary BBC mystery series based on Ngaio Marsh's books. In "A Man Lay Dying," a weekend in the country turns deadly when the host's game of murder produces a real victim, while Alleyn investigates the theft of a rare religious artifact. In "The Nursing Home Murder," Alleyn dissects the death of the British Home Secretary, who has succumbed on the operating table. In "Death at the Bar," directed by Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People), a prominent lawyer is seemingly dispatched by poison dart. "Final Curtain," the liveliest of the lot, features Alleyn's girlfriend, artist Agatha Troy, who enlists Alleyn to investigate the death of a venerable Shakespearean actor whose portrait she was commissioned to paint. Like Lord Peter Wimsey, Alleyn has an aristocratic background, but he sports none of the trappings, nor does he exhibit Wimsey's panache. He gets more mileage out of quizzical looks than witty banter. But while Alleyn himself may not be a sparkplug, the mysteries themselves--"seething with sinister intent," to quote one observer--will thrill Anglophiles and mystery buffs who can't get enough of dark and stormy nights, rooms full of suspects with darting eyes, and the climactic moment when Alleyn sorts it all out, or as one very suspect gent remarks at one point, "What an intriguing maze a policeman's mind is." --Donald Liebenson
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