Alison “Alex McPherson” Sweeney is back for a second installment of Chronicle Mysteries in as many weeks, and I am fine with Hallmark’s decision. This is the most exciting series debut so far in 2019, and while it may not be all fireworks all the time, it’s solid on all fronts. Sweeney and most of her costars band together to solve another cold case, one that her character Alex decides to take on after the discovery of a body.
When Tara Thurman is found in the woods, her husband, Mike (Peter Benson), appeals to Alex to help clear his name, again. He was already acquitted in court, but the verdict wasn’t enough to convince Tara’s family and friends of his innocence. His brother-in-law and Tara’s twin, Tim, is especially incensed and is pursuing the truth – and Mike – with a vengeance. After seeing the success of Alex’s last podcast, the wronged husband hopes she’ll uncover new information that will lead to the real killer.
Alex starts investigating and broadcasting her podcast simultaneously, which seems like an untidy way to tell the story. I thought she would want to dig deeper and map out a compelling narrative for maximum effect, but she puts everything out to the Barrington public in real time. Anyway, it works for her. She immediately zeroes in a Clay Burrell, a violent carjacker who was active at the time of the murder. Her research yields few suspects, but it does lead to some interesting information about the victim’s personal and professional life. She learns that the couple were having difficulties in their marriage, both because of Tara’s temper and Mike’s possible affair with his coworker Betsy. But Alex also discovers that Tara, a lawyer, was working on some cases that earned her enemies in the Philadelphia mob.
The story has a lot of loose threads and with a less capable creative team, it would lose most of them. But the plot manages to keep itself together and finds a way to connect what’s going on with Alex’s investigation to other activity at the Barrington Chronicle. Drew (Benjamin Ayres) ends up at the docks, poking around some fishy business involving newly opened shipping lanes, while hapless manager Chuck (Dave Collette) worries about problems with the printing press.
The parts of the puzzle take some time to come into focus though, and this is one of those mysteries that lays out most of its pieces in the early going and jumps around here and there. I like mysteries that nudge you along, where cases get narrower as they progress. This is the opposite, the kind of case where everything coalesces in a hurry at the very end. Yet there’s still a healthy balance because all of the characters are engaged in a some meaningful way. Chuck, for example, is not the bumbling fool he seems to be and is in fact a critical member of the reporting team. He’s quickly becoming my favorite character because he’s so unexpected. I much prefer his type than the condescending boyfriend cop someone like Alex would normally be paired with. For now, there is no romantic storyline even if there are hints of one, and it turns out that it’s not necessary.
Highlight for spoilers: Betsy. Betsy was in fact having an affair with Mike. She wanted to make Tara seem crazy so she keyed her own car and broke her own window and then pinned everything on Tara. She thought that it would be enough to drive Mike away from his wife and to her. He might have, but when he was arrested for murder, he ended up dumping Betsy to preserve her reputation.
Dir: Terry Ingram
Writer: Melissa Salmons
Cast: Alison Sweeney, Benjamin Ayres, Dave Collette, Michael Kopsa, Toby Levins, Karen Holness, Peter Benson, Marco Soriano, Lisa MacFadden, Jesse Moss
Time: 83 min
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries