Other than being the Belfast Telegraph Features Editor, there is one job I have always wanted: lady detective.
Raised on a diet of Agatha Christie (more on her later) and unlikely women becoming unlikely sleuths, and more recently reading the Agatha Raisin books by MC Beaton, it’s a role that still fills me with wonder.
And because Billy is off this week, I get to celebrate it.
Needless to say, I watch a lot of crime dramas/thrillers/police procedurals, but nothing is as good as a villager/baker/nun turning detective.
Yes, a nun. I doubt I’m the only person tuning into the Sister Boniface Mysteries — though after a quick survey from my friends, it’s possible I might be.
The titular crime solving nun lives in St Vincent’s Convent in the town of Great Slaughter. It is the 1960s and, when she’s not hunting down murderers in a particularly calm, dignified manner, she makes wine and has a PhD in Forensic Science.
This handy little qualification leads her well placed to ‘help’ (rescue) the police during their investigations.
It’s cosy crime at its best you say, like a cup of tea made for you by someone else and presented at the perfect drinking temperature with the surprise addition of three chocolate digestives.
Well, cosyish. Tell that to the victims. So far, one has died via suffocation when her head was pushed into a barrel of sawdust. Not exactly all the fun of the fair. Apart from for the murderer.
Another dearly departed with a face thick with cold cream (ask your granny) and lying beside a completed jigsaw, bar one missing piece. TV murderers are so careless with other peoples’ pastimes.
There’s a smidgeon of love interest between DI Sam Gillespie and newspaper editor Ruth Penny (a female newspaper editor in the 1960s! How very Endeavour!) but really, you’re watching it for Sister Boniface’s knowledge of — apart from theology, naturally: binary poisons, photograph developing, philosophy, electrocution and pollen combinations.
All these murders… she’s making a habit of it. Sorry.
It’s already been commissioned for a second series so it’s clear that getting thee to a nunnery pays when it comes to televisual delights.
While I have faith in Sister Boniface solving every conundrum with which she’s faced, it’s vital to have similar belief in TV adaptations of favoured novels.
Agatha Christie’s short yet succinct mysteries were dripping with detail; with characters who each play a role, however seemingly insignificant, in speeding the plot along.
So what to make of Hugh Laurie’s description of writing and directing an adaptation of his favourite Christie novel, Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? as ‘a bit like trying to do a Rubik’s Cube while people are pelting your face with hot gravel?’
Think he’s spent too much time down Sister Boniface’s way, to be frank.
That said, the three-parter on BritBox is — and please forgive me, I’m going to sound like I should be a member of the Famous Five here — brilliantly good fun.
For starters… it’s all a bit sexy. Not past the watershed sexy but a bit… ramped up chemistry.
Enter socialite Lady Frances ‘Frankie’ Derwent and her childhood friend Bobby Jones, the vicar’s son. Both want to solve the mystery of a man falling to his death from a clifftop.
When Bobby — former war hero, naturally — arrives to help the man, he’s asked the titular question… why didn’t they ask Evans?
Hands up if you automatically thought of Chris (TFI Friday); Chris (Captain America); Roy (Walford car salesman) or Pat (wearer of big earrings).
Frankie and Bobby bring a youthfulness to the goings-on, refreshing if you’ve watched hundreds (whisper: thousands) of hours of crime fighting capers.
Unlike their older unexpected operatives, their lack of cynicism drives the plot. They haven’t seen or heard it all before. They weren’t born then.
As the old friends reunite for a bit of crime solving, the extended cast reads like a who’s who of another Christie favourite — Albert Finney as Poirot on Murder on the Orient Express.
Emma Thompson and Jim Broadbent play Lady and Lord Marcham, Frankie’s mummy and daddy, while Paul Whitehouse is the landlord of local pub, Mr Askew. And Conleth Hill. Did we mention he’s in it? Granted, he’s also in another BritBox favourite of mine — Magpie Murders — and anyone who watched him in Holding will know he’s an asset.
I’m not sure Christie would have been delighted to have her novels dubbed ‘cosy crime’ but in an era of highly detailed and wonderfully technical crime dramas, sometimes you just want car chases in highly polished old models and afternoon teas of tiny sandwiches and cakes with lashings of ginger beer.
All you’d need is a clued-in nun and you’d be sorted.