Concrete Evidence: A Fixer Upper Mystery (2017)

For what it’s worth, which is almost nothing, this is my favorite Hallmark mystery. Lead actress Jewel once again makes this series stand out, effortlessly adding sparkle to her sleuthing everywoman character. She does what many of the Hallmark leads try to do, which is give spunk to a stereotype. Let’s be honest; things are a bit vanilla when it comes to this and similar channels. These are all strong white women of a certain mold, women who are good at their day jobs, often as a small business owner, can rely on a supportive network of family and friends, and are financially stable enough to balance a career and a full-time hobby.

In comes Jewel as Shannon Hughes, who is all these things but who also lacks any pretense. The actress doesn’t force a personality onto the screen but lets it slip out as the story allows. Shannon still gets to be a hero but doesn’t go out of her way to be one, unlike other accidental detectives (I’m looking at you, Hannah Swensen). She tries to avoid deadly confrontation like a normal person and uses her good sense to dial emergency services, because sometimes it’s okay to leave things to the professionals. In doing so, we are spared seeing her lectured to by a protective male detective (it’s always a guy, and yes, I’m looking at you, Detective Mike) who gets to have it both ways and chastise and admire a woman at the same time. But when she does try to thwart a suspect’s escape, she uses her handywoman skills because girl is a quick thinker.

Besides a watchable lead though, Concrete Evidence also presents an enticing if not extraordinary mystery. It’s tightly plotted, a whodunit where all the players have a complex history with the victim and the other suspects. The story stretches back to Shannon’s high school days when Lily, the girlfriend of her former classmate, disappears. Lily isn’t seen or heard from again, until her skeleton is found inside a dumbwaiter in the house Shannon is restoring. It’s the same house purchased by Mac Sullivan (Colin Ferguson), star crime reporter, novelist, and Shannon’s potential love interest.

Immediately, suspicion falls on Cliff, the boyfriend and last person to see Lily alive. Besides his reputation as an arrogant jock back in the day, he now owns a competing restoration business and Shannon knows firsthand how far he’ll go to get his way. When she revisits their school for more clues, however, old friends reveal old grievances that might point to other killers. Lily’s best friend, Denise, who now teaches at the school, her husband, and even Lily’s brother, a foreman on Shannon’s crew, may not be as forthcoming as they first appear.

One thing I liked is that everyone gets a fair shot at being the prime suspect. I thought I had the case figured out early on but found myself shifting allegiances with new revelations. Meanwhile, the investigators are coming into their own. Shannon’s friend from the first movie gets more screentime as her sidekick, and another former classmate, the faithful Officer Tommy, realizes it’s more productive to trust Shannon’s instincts than to ignore them. Shannon’s relationship with Mac is also handled with care. These two aren’t in a rush to get together, so when they do begin to show signs of attraction, it feels natural and all the more welcome.

Released: 2017
Dir: Mark Jean
Writer: Teena Booth
Cast: Jewel, Colin Ferguson, Erin Karpluk, Ron Lea, Jason Cermak, Colin Lawrence, Sean Rogerson, Wiliam MacDonald, Michael Karl Richards, Jenn MacLean-Angus, Ben Cotton
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2017