A Very Merry Murder Mystery Marathon

Four lesser-known mystery shows you should marathon this holiday season.

Here are two things I love: mysteries and not leaving my house. There’s little I enjoy more than getting immersed in a good murder mystery over holiday break. Lest you feel the need to pick up the phone to alert my unsuspecting family members or the authorities, I will clarify that I’m talking about binge watching television. Are you with me? If so, keep reading because I’ve got some recommendations for you!

Even if you’re less introverted than I am and are a fan of exiting your home for various activities, everyone needs a lazy day now and again. If you have a few days off around the holidays or if you live somewhere where snow and cold are a factor, the winter months are an especially good time for binge watching TV shows. Below are four mystery shows I suggest.

Happy Valley
HAPPY VALLEY - EPISODE 2Warning: it’s an addictive show with well-drawn and complex characters and a riveting storyline, but contrary to the title, Happy Valley is an extremely depressing series. If, unlike me, you dislike being bummed out by your television viewing, just skip down to my next recommendation. However, if you can appreciate dark subject matter in a superbly written and acted story, Happy Valley was made for you.

The pilot episode sees police officer Catherine Cawood trying to talk a man down from committing suicide by setting himself on fire. “I’m Catherine, by the way,” she says by way of introduction. “I’m forty-seven. I’m divorced. I live with my sister, who’s a recovering heroin addict. I’ve two grown-up children – one dead, one who don’t speak to me – and a grandson.”

Though she’s already gone by the time the series starts, the first season revolves around the deceased daughter Catherine mentions. When Catherine spots the man she believes is responsible for driving her daughter to suicide, she becomes obsessed with tracking him down and exacting revenge. Her quest leads her into the midst of a dangerous crime and stirs up issues in her already troubled family.

The appeal of the series rests largely on the shoulders of Catherine, played by Sarah Lancashire. She brings Catherine’s strength, compassion, and almost unbearable pain to life in a way that makes her and the show infinitely watchable. The series also boasts a strong supporting cast. Catherine’s relationship with her sister, Clare, the aforementioned recovering heroin addict, and their joint raising of Catherine’s grandson is one of the highlights of the series.

U.S. viewers can watch Happy Valley on Netflix.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries
miss-fisherIn the very first episode of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, set in 1920s Australia, Phryne Fisher lands herself in the middle of a dangerous murder investigation involving drug smuggling and illegal abortions. As she rushes off in pursuit of a hot lead, her aunt, an uptight socialite type, asks, “Why do you think you can just run off on your own?”

“Because I’ve got a gun,” Phryne replies, holding up a very classy and ladylike looking pistol with a pearl handle to emphasize her point. And that, readers, is the moment I fell in love. Phryne is the type of woman who, when taken to the police station for interfering in an investigation, turns her mug shot session into a sexy photo shoot. She also keeps a dagger in her garter. If you hear a thud, don’t worry, that’s just me swooning.

Phryne solves crime with her quick mind and disregard for boundaries whilst simultaneously rankling and flirting with Police Inspector Jack Robinson. And she dresses exquisitely through it all. Though he’s certainly closest to her heart, Jack is far from her only male interest. Like a lady James Bond, she manages to bed a handsome new man every other case or so and takes great delight in doing so.

Phryne has a wonderfully mismatched group of people surrounding her who become a chosen family of sorts. The relationships between the characters add a great deal of charm to the show. A running joke amongst them all is the way someone turns up dead within moments of Phryne’s arrival anywhere. This is a flirty and fun show that, despite having murder at its center, doesn’t take itself too seriously. It doesn’t entirely shy away from dark topics either. The running thread through all of season one, for instance, is Phyrne dealing with the man she believes murdered her sister when they were children.  Finally, despite being set in the more conservative 1920s, it manages to be one of the most woman-positive and sex-positive shows I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.

U.S. viewers can watch Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries on Netflix.

Scott and Bailey
scottandbaileyAt the center of Scott and Bailey are Detective Constable Janet Scott and Detective Constable Rachel Bailey, both officers on the Major Incident Team of the Manchester Metropolitan Police. Janet is a seasoned by-the-book inspector. The younger Rachel can be a bit of a loose cannon, but her outside-the-box thinking often leads to breaks in cases.

While the show also delves into the characters’ messy personal lives, the highlight is definitely the professional relationships. Rachel and Janet are a tight pair both on and off the job. It’s the combination of Janet’s level head and Rachel’s balls-to-the-wall style that make them a detecting dream time. But, of course, those same differences also mean they clash on occasion. Despite one or two epic blowups, these two remain some of the most important people in each other’s lives.

Their boss, Detective Chief Inspector Gill Murray, also adds to the mix of personalities. Smart and no-nonsense, she serves as a mentor to both, especially the younger Rachel. She’s equal parts proud of Rachel’s brilliance and frustrated by her seemingly constant screw-ups. At one point, after having to do some fancy footwork to ensure her two detectives stay employed after questionable activity on their part, Gill finds Rachel and Janet at their favorite bar and announces, “If either one of you ever, ever lets me down over this, I will come after you, and I will kill you, both of you. And I will get away with it because I know how.” The three then share a drink.

This show was developed by the creator of Happy Valley, but though the cases are often similarly dark to those of Happy Valley, the feel of the show is much lighter. The characters struggle through their messy lives with a good deal of strength, humor, and support from one another. And, as an added bonus, this is one of the few detective shows I can think of with prominent female characters on every level of the command chain.

U.S. viewers can watch Scott and Bailey on Hulu.

Wire in the Blood
witbIn a season six episode, Alex Fielding, the detective that psychologist Tony Hill is paired with in the back half of the series, confesses, “I have to admit…when I first started working with you, I often thought, ‘what a prick.’ I mean, interesting prick, talented prick, but ‘prick’ was always the noun.”

In my humble opinion, Tony Hill is not actually a prick, but he does often rub people the wrong way. He’s a brilliant psychologist who understands human behavior in theory and is extremely talented at utilizing that knowledge to track serial killers but absolutely helpless at applying it to his own personal interactions. Because viewers get more insight into his eccentricities and struggles than many of the people he interacts with in his day to day life, it’s easier for us to identify and sympathize with him and be charmed rather than annoyed by his social ineptitude.

Wire in the Blood is a dark psychological series that delves into the why of each murder. In the first three seasons, Tony is paired with Detective Chief Inspector Carol Jordan, and he’s teamed with Detective Inspector Alex Fielding in the later three seasons. In both cases, the detective plays the skeptic to some of Dr. Hill’s seemingly outlandish leaps of logic, but in time, they each come to rely on his insight into the criminal mind.

Tony’s partnerships with both Carol and Alex make for engaging viewing, but I’ll admit to a slight preference for the later seasons in which he’s paired with Alex. I appreciate her brash attitude and confidence and think she and Tony play exceptionally well off one another as their relationship evolves from one of tentative allies to a deep trust and symbiosis.

U.S. viewers can watch Wire in the Blood on Hulu.

I just realized all my picks are non-American shows. Do countries outside my homeland do mysteries better, or do I simply have a weakness for accents? I suspect the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Do you have recommendations I missed? Please let me know in the comments. If you’d rather watch some movies, look no further than Hot Movies for a Cold Night. If you’re short on time, maybe try one of these web series recommendations. Happy viewing!

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1 Comment on A Very Merry Murder Mystery Marathon

  1. Thank you for this list, Liz. I already adore Wire in the Blood and Sarah Lancashire (from Last Tango in Halifax, another show worth watching). I wanted to watch Miss Fisher on PBS, but I missed the first one.
    Thank you for providing the needed and high quality fodder for procrastination I require this winter.

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