Ruby Herring Mysteries: Silent Witness (2019)

New year, new mysteries. Despite needing to catch up on Grantchester, Foyle’s War, and new Poirot, I’ve elected to go with Hallmark’s latest detective, Ruby Herring, and since I clearly have not resolved to be more intentional about my television habits, I kind of deserve this. The film’s not exactly a fresh start for Hallmark Mysteries, and if anything, it’s a lazy crossover between Morning Show Mysteries and Murder, She Baked. Ruby (Taylor Cole), an investigative consumer reporter for a Seattle television station, is the maid of honor at her sister, Charlotte’s (Alyson Walker), wedding. It’s being held in a luxury hotel on the same weekend as a bakers’ conference, which means star baker Sugar Albert (Stellina Rusich) can make Charlotte’s cake while attending the industry gathering. Sugar’s sudden death, however, threatens to spoil both events.

The details of the case are absorbing, and Sugar’s drowning in a river along a popular hiking trail leads to several main suspects. Initially, Sugar’s husband, Sam (Todd Thomson), is the target of the investigation. Unmoved by his wife’s death, he has the manner of a cold-blooded killer. Attention shifts, however, when chatter develops around Marian (Darla Fay), a rival baker. Once a mentor to many at the conference, Marian has parted ways with everyone and on bad terms. She’s particularly angry at Sugar and Sam for stealing her organic baking know-how and her recipes in order to build their own popular business. For my part, I don’t think the genial hotel manager, Derek (Mig Macario), who is also Ruby’s high school friend, can be trusted. He was passed over for a job with Sugar in favor of her niece, Megan, and still nurses a grudge.

The movie has a solid mystery but is missing all the things that give it depth and a sense of character and place. Besides the Sugar Albert case file, Silent Witness doesn’t really know what story wants to tell us. Charlotte’s wedding is an afterthought, convenient when certain characters need moving around but forgotten otherwise. Ruby somehow has loads of free time to interview suspects, chat with associates of the deceased, and even file reports. I wouldn’t have minded a Murder, She Baked dynamic where her relationships with her family inform Ruby’s personality and actions. We see some interaction with her father (Shawn Christian), a noted crime reporter turned journalism teacher, but he’s too much of a pedant for my liking, always encouraging her to follow her investigative instincts while still talking to her like a child. Plus, he looks way too young to be her father.

Ruby’s partnership with Seattle’s newest detective, Jake Killian (Stephen Huszar), is more filled out but is at times confusing as hell. They are a familiar duo, opposing personalities thrown together for the sake of solving a crime. Or rather, she forces her way into the investigation, which piques Jake’s defenses. He’s not thrilled about sharing space with a reporter and regularly tells her to back off, but he also doesn’t have a problem with feeding her information and trusting that she won’t spill it all over the ten o’clock news. It doesn’t help that Huszar seems as noncommittal to his part as Jake is Ruby’s interference.

There’s a lot of room for improvement here, and I won’t dismiss it entirely since one of my favorite Hallmark mysteries, Darrow and Darrow, also got off to a weak start. That show, however, had the benefit of a strong cast and lively characters, which isn’t the case for Ruby Herring. Cole might stand out with a more memorable character, but she’ll need plenty of support from her costars and writers.

Highlight for spoilers: Always suspect the person you least suspect, which in this case is either Megan or Derek. And since Megan was at the scene of the crime, that’s the big ass clue that she’s the killer. She dosed her aunt’s water with sleeping pills, pushed her down the ravine, and when that didn’t do the trick, she just drowned her. Ruby makes the connection when she hacks into Megan’s fitness tracker, a tactic that actually works. Megan’s reason for murdering Sugar was that her aunt was going to sell the business, leaving her without a job. She figured with Sugar out of the way, Sam would be in charge, and he would fight to keep the business going.

Released: 2019
Dir: Paul Ziller
Writer: Andrea Canning, Lynn Keller
Cast: Taylor Cole, Stephen Huszar, Shawn Christian, Alyson Walker, Karen Holness, Stellina Rusich, Jovanna Burke, Matthew Kevin Anderson, Debra Donohue, Todd Matthews, Mig Macario, Todd Thomson
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2019