The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: Series Review

"There can be no peace without the truth."

Meet Jack Whicher (Paddy Consadine), a London police detective (one of the first seven hired when Scotland Yard was established) who later becomes a freelance "private enquiries agent." By 1860, he is generally regarded as the best detective in London, if not all of England, a man with a solid sense of right and wrong who pursues the truth relentlessly, no matter where it leads or who it inconveniences. At the same time, there's an air of melancholy about him. Is it just the cumulative effect of a career spent seeing the worst the human race has to offer, or is there something dark in his past he hasn't yet come to terms with?

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher is a series of four television movies produced between 2011 and 2014: The Murder at Road Hill House, The Murder in Angel Lane, Beyond the Pale, and The Ties That Bind. The first installment is the film version of the 2008 nonfiction book of the same name by Kate Summerscale, which tells the story of a sensational 1860 murder case which was initially investigated by the real Jack Whicher. The other three are stories of fictional crimes set in the year 1865 and after, interwoven with historical events from Jack Whicher's biography.

Do you like your mysteries with multiple layers of deception and secrecy and characters who inevitably aren't what they seem at first to be? Welcome to a world where nearly everybody has appearances to keep up and dark things they keep hidden behind the fa├žade. The writing is first class: revelations come at unexpected times and from unexpected directions, but at the end of the story, it all makes perfect sense.

Do you like complex characters who develop and change over time? The man at the center of the story, Jack Whicher, is just such a character. He's a brilliant detective with a keen eye for detail, though not unrealistically hyper-competent. He's also a man who hasn't quite processed some tragic personal experiences. The things he discovers in his quest for the truth of the matter before him trigger reflections on his past, and his personal issues, in turn, color some of his interactions with others. The backstory is communicated without the use of flashbacks or long stretches of exposition, and often entirely without dialogue, using only Jack's facial expressions, posture, and movement. Paddy Consadine's performance is easily the best thing about the series. That's no knock on the rest of the cast; the acting is uniformly excellent. I was particularly impressed by Sam Barnard, a gentleman with Down's Syndrome who plays an asylum inmate in The Murder in Angel Lane. Doctor Who fans will enjoy seeing Peter Capaldi as a wealthy country squire in The Murder at Road Hill House.

Do you like meticulous period detail and first-class production values? There are street scenes in this series that easily involve a hundred or more people, with things going on in the middle distance, like a train passing or a freight wagon being loaded or kids playing, that have nothing directly to do with the plot, but are there just to show that this is a real street in a real city filled with real people going about their lives. Clothing, vehicles, equipment, speech patterns, manners, morals, and turns of phrase are all correct for the era. The courtroom scenes alone will teach you more about Victorian-period criminal procedure than a semester of Legal History at your local law school.

While the crime stories themselves are dark and have mostly-downer endings, Jack Whicher's personal story arc over the four episodes ends on a reasonably optimistic note. It's unfortunate that there were no further installments made, because you're left with a desire to see the next chapter of his personal story.

Four out of four private enquiries agents.

1 comment:

TJ said...

This sounds good! I have to check it out! Thanks Baby M!