"There is no point in using the word impossible to describe something that has clearly happened."- Douglas Adams (Dirk Gentle's Holistic Detective Agency, 1987)
After eons of one-off appearances in holiday specials, Jonathan Creek reemerged on the small screen last evening in the first of three regular episodes, entitled The Letters of Septimus Noone (2014), but David Renwick, creator and sole writer of the series, took a different approach to the plot this time around – tilting it at an inverted angle.
|Jonathan & Polly Creek|
The first difference between The Letters of Septimus Noone and the specials of the preceding years is the lack of an atmospheric setting and back-story permeating with suggestions of the supernatural. There aren't any bedrooms digesting its guest over night or portraits coming to life here. However, it's not a return to the old form either.
Jonathan Creek and his wife, Polly, are attending a West End musical performance of Gaston Leroux's The Mystery of the Yellow Room (1907) and the seemingly impossible attack in the play is echoed backstage. Star of the show, Juno Pirelli, is found with a knife wound in her dressing room after they had to break open the bolted door and witnesses in the hallway saw nobody sneaking in-and out of the room – leaving them stunned and baffled. Only the viewer at home saw the whole thing unfold and this was done so they could have a chuckle at the expense of Creek's rival: a young criminology student with a keen eye for details and a penchant for leaps of logic.
|The very Sherlockian Ridley|
Ridley is a nudge and a wink at Sherlock and his first encounter with Creek has a scene in which he (wrongly) deducts he just returned from Reykjavik, complete of close-ups and zoom-ins of the clues, but Ridley was mainly there to provide a preposterous false solution for the attack in the locked dressing room. The main components of Ridley’s solution are old hat, but there was one, subtle detail borrowed from one of my favorite impossible crime novels. Did you spot it?
There are also subplots lurking in the background of the episode. An elderly woman, Hazel Prosser, shares an incredible story with Polly about the day she brought the urn with her mother's ashes home and spilled them when startled by the telephone. She was called away, but upon her return, the pile of ash had vanished from the carpet! The windows were all secured from the inside and Hazel locked the front door before going away. It's a minor, but fun, subplot and could be plucked from my series of posts on real-life, often domestic locked room mysteries (parts: I, II, III, IV and V). The other subplot involves Polly's father, who passed away, and a stack of old letters written to her mother and Renwick's focus was on this plot-thread – as nearly all the clues in this episode point towards this problem. Downside is that it's almost impossible to miss the answer. But is it fair to complain about fair clueing?
Anyhow, The Letters of Septimus Noone is a visual collection of separate puzzles, clicking together through characters and events making connections, however, while this made the plot tidier than the patch-work plotting of The Clue of the Savant's Thumb (2013), it also made the characters and plot feel slight. Juggling between these separate stories meant some lacked the exposure to be fully effective such as Ridley lampooning the modern-day interpretation of Sherlock Holmes. On the other hand, I have to compliment Renwick on how he managed to reinvent the series. Jonathan Creek discarded the duffle coat and left the magician business (and windmill!) behind and married Polly, which now makes them one of those wisecracking, mystery solving couples that were all the rage in the 1940s (e.g. Kelley Roos).
So, all in all, a somewhat imperfect beginning to the new series, but, hopefully, the next episode has a grand (central) impossible problem at the heart of the episode.