Today we’ll be reviewing a recent show from across the pond, the BBC hit show Death In Paradise. Part cozy detective mystery ala Hercule Poirot, part fish out of water comedy. The show follows a very English detective inspector transferred to the Caribbean paradise island of Sainte Marie where he has to battle diabolical killers, eccentric locals, foreign cuisine and customs and his own homesickness.
As it’s varied influences indicate, Death In Paradise is a wonderfully quirky show. It is characterized by very sharp writing with storylines and suspects that will usually keep you guessing until the very end when the inspector, in true cozy mystery fashion, drags everybody into the nearest available large room and proceeds to break down the sequence of events and unmask the surprised killer(s).
The actors are also a treat to watch. The first season introduces us to Detective Inspector Richard Poole, a classically neurotic Englishman through and through, who shuns warm beaches, sun and the fiery local cuisine while pining away for a good pot of tea. Poole spends many episodes wandering around crime scenes roasting in a heavy, black, woolen suit, employing the famous English wit as a weapon everywhere he goes. The neuroses and odd fashion sense conceal a first rate mind that misses little and retains everything. Poole’s perception and analysis is always first rate and a source of amazement to his co-workers.
DI Poole, don’t get between him and his tea.
Assisting him are DS Camille Bordey, a French-Caribbean beauty with a first rate investigative mind of her own and a fiery temper and aggressiveness that nicely offsets the low key Poole.
Camille Bordey being intense.
Other characters include the laid back Constable Dwayne Myers, who usually looks like he would rather be partying than working. But he has a keen sense of the islands underground and an endless book of informants and contacts. Often delivering a vital clue to his boss at the right time.
Dwayne trying his best to avoid work and failing.
Hardworking Constable Fidel Best, often the butt of one of his co-workers practical jokes.
Poor, overworked Fidel.
Police Commissioner Patterson, who hides his ruthless political instincts and ambition behind a harmless, bumbling bureaucratic exterior.
The Boss in full uniform.
The island itself is a wonderful character in itself. The show is shot on location in the Caribbean and the exterior shots are absolutely stunning. Lush jungles, beautiful beaches and a range of buildings from shanty towns to 4 star resorts provide plenty of settings for the mysteries. The island has a mix of French, English and Caribbean influences and the people are a wonderful mixture of a wide range of cultural influences.
One of many beautiful shots of the island.
The show may seem a bit slow for people used to American style police dramas. Chases and shootouts are minimal and the forensic capabilities of the isolated police force are mostly limited to mugshot books and old style fingerprint cards. Anything beyond basic forensics is sent off to a whole different island. This means the characters rely on their keen observational skills, interrogation of witnesses and logic to solve cases. This back to the basics police work is refreshing in an era of flashy, overly FX’d TV detective shows.
High tech forensic tools need not apply.
The stories follow roughly the same structure and usually start with the discovery of one or more bodies, followed by a labyrinth of plot twists, confused or unreliable witnesses and misdirection by the perpetrators. Fortunately the writers for the show do a good job writing the motivations and actions of the characters so the chaos seems natural. Each episode ends with the Chief Inspector addressing everybody and unveiling the villain. The final conclusion usually seems obvious in hindsight but was all but invisible as the story unfolded due to a whirlwind of misleading information.
Typical pace of the show, 5 minutes in and the first victim hurtles out a window!
The range of motives, murder weapons and characters are as wide as you can imagine. Drug dealers, tourists, corrupt executives, native feuds and jealous lovers are just a few of the possible suspects in these cases. Often unrelated crimes are mixed in, giving the sense of an active police force trying to juggle a variety of misdemeanors and felony cases beyond the primary one.
My only issue with the show develops with the series. Due to the isolated location shoots, the cast turnover gets very bad as the show progresses. Most of the replacements are top-notch actors and actresses, but the change can be jarring. Especially when a favorite character leaves the show.
Verdict: 4 Gavels out of 5
An excellent, well written series with beautiful location shots, varied characters and sharp writing. Cast turnover in later seasons does hurt the quality somewhat. But it is still a quality production, well worth viewing.