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Agatha Raisin Series 1, Episode 5: Vicious Vet Sky 1 Ashley Jenson as Agatha Raisin

Agatha Raisin
Series 1, Episode 5: Vicious Vet
Sky 1

Fans of British murder mysteries will be chuffed to hear that streaming service Acorn TV has yet another exclusive U.S. premiere on the way. Hailed by The Times as a fun cross between Bridget Jones and Midsomer Murders  Agatha Raisin is a PR ace turned consulting detective who becomes entangled in mischief, mayhem, and murder when she decides to leave the rat race for early retirement in a small village in the Cotswolds. The pilot movie, the Quiche of Death, premieres on Monday, August 1, 2016, and the eight-episode Series 1 premieres the following week on Monday, August 8, 2016.

You might be wondering whether yet another amateur sleuth series is worth watching so let me introduce you to the force of nature that is Agatha Raisin.

First, Agatha Raisin is the creation of Scottish mystery writer M.C. Beaton. She debuted in the 1992 novel Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death and has appeared in at least one novel every year since. You may also be familiar with another of Beaton’s characters who got his own TV series – Hamish Macbeth.

Agatha is played by Scottish actress Ashley Jensen well known for her sitcom work in Catastrophe, Extras, Ugly Betty and her voice-overs in animated features such as Arthur Christmas, Gnomeo & Juliet and How to Train Your Dragon. Always stylish, Agatha traipses around her adopted village of Carsley in stiletto heels, colorful frocks and meticulously coiffed hair. She doesn’t hold back nor waits to be accepted, but forges ahead full-steam in pursuit of her goals. For one who so desperately wants to fit in, Ms. Raisin apparently can’t disguise her true self to save her life.

How, you may ask, does one who works in the field of shaping public perceptions about celebrities and corporations become a talented crime solver? Agatha has many transferable skills actually including her keen awareness of human nature. She also uses a common PR tool called a mood board to organize her thoughts and look for connections.

Working the Mood Board image credit Sky 1

Working the Mood Board      image credit Sky 1

While Agatha doesn’t make a great first impression on most of her fellow villagers, she’s not without a few allies. Detective Constable Bill Wong (Matt McCooey) is a great help with his police connections and puppy dog crush on Agatha. Ms. Raisin poached cleaner Gemma Simpson (Katy Wix) from a neighbor and they soon become fast friends. Gemma, sometimes reluctantly but always loyally, joins in on Agatha’s unorthodox investigations and is usually the voice of reason. Last but not least is Agatha’s former assistant Roy (Mathew Horne) who does much of the background research and helps her with her brainstorming sessions.

I leave you with this final factoid. Apparently before Agatha moved to Carsley, no one (in living memory anyway) had been murdered in this area of the Cotswolds. Much like Midsomer Murders, one wonders how so many violent crimes can take place in such an idyllic area without seriously depleting the local population. Is Agatha the most potent jinx in England? Or perhaps people had been victims of foul play before but the clueless police (a la Hot Fuzz) thought they were just unfortunate accidents and it took an outsider to see the truth.

Whatever the case, I found Agatha Raisin entertaining. Untimely ends come mostly to unpleasant residents. Agatha’s persistence and inquisitive nature make her a natural investigator; however, what makes her likable is her desire to make a new life, to escape loneliness and to strive to learn the truth whatever the danger. Ashley Jensen described Agatha as a “strong forthright, independent, driven, successful woman, who is both funny and flawed, a real woman of our time” and I’d agree with that.

 

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The international cast of Fortitude image credit Fifty Fathoms, Tiger Aspect and Sky Atlantic

Fortitude draws people from around the world with its bleak beauty
image credit Fifty Fathoms, Tiger Aspect and Sky Atlantic

 

I’ve only gotten three episodes into this psychological thriller, but from what I’ve seen thus far, Fortitude has certainly made me want to keep watching. For those of you who haven’t yet heard of this Nordic Noir series with lots of British accents, let me set the scene without giving too much of the mystery away.

Imagine a place were residents struggle with savage cold and months engulfed in darkness. Men, women and children carry rifles for protection from increasingly aggressive polar bears. Yet in the remote Arctic Norwegian community of Fortitude, crime is mercifully non-existent.

 

Or at least that used to be the case until a respected British researcher is found brutally murdered in his home. But who would want to kill this man described as a good and lovely person by everyone in town?  As you’d expect, there are a number of possible suspects and I assume more will surface in the course of the series.

Fortitude’s sheriff, Dan Anderssen, has never had to conduct a homocide inquiry and since the victim is a UK citizen, the London Metropolitan Police sends a forensic specialist to help with the investigation. Oddly enough he is an American, the enormously talented Stanley Tucci, who enters the case as a complete outsider to this close knit and secretive community. And it is through him that we learn about the dark side of Fortitude.

While the murder is front and center in this story, other important things are going on in the background. A young boy and his friend find what appears to be a mammoth tooth in some melting permafrost. Immediately after he returns home the lad faints and falls into a semi-coma. A well-known wildlife photographer is dying of terminal cancer and has a secret he shares with the sheriff. In addition, Fortitude has a open but unspoken swingers’ culture.

Though set in a Norwegian territory of the Arctic Circle, Fortitude is an international community brought together by its mining industry and environmental research center. The cast mirrors this diverse population with actors from Denmark, Spain, Romania, and Zimbabwe among others. This series, however, is first and foremost a UK based production and you will recognize many of the British actors popping up on your screen; Michael Gambon, Christopher Eccleston, Jessica Raines, Darren Boyd, Luke Treadway and Richard Dormer (a Northern Irish actor playing Fortitude’s Sheriff Anderssen).

Dan Anderssen, is a good cop or a bad cop? image credit Sky Atlantic, Fifty Fathoms and Tiger Aspect Productions

Dan Anderssen, is he a good cop or a bad cop?
image credit Sky Atlantic, Fifty Fathoms and Tiger Aspect Productions

 

Fortitude has already been recommissioned for a second series due out in 2016 so I assume the well-constructed mystery and taut story lines will continue for the remainder of the episodes I’ve yet to see.

Well, I’m going to get back to it. I hope to be able to fit in another episode or two before I turn in for the evening. If you haven’t binged on Fortitude, you can stream it on Amazon Instant Video or, like me, borrow the DVD set from your local library. If you have seen it, tell us what you thought of it – but no spoilers please!

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