Aurora Teagarden Mysteries: Heist and Seek (2020)

When it comes to whodunnits, I’m always going to recommend something along the lines of Foyle’s War or Grantchester or even Monk if we’re sticking to light American entertainment, but I can’t deny that Aurora Teagarden hits that murder mystery sweet spot. It’s the equivalent of a satisfying beach read, and I knew Heist and Seek was going to deliver when one of the characters popped out of a dumpster in full Elizabethan courtier garb.

The movie has all the right elements for a night of crime solving fun, from stolen artifacts to catty divas to dorky Brendon Zub. The intrigue begins at a library fundraiser of all places. To raise money for their literacy program, librarians Ro (Candace Cameron Bure) and Lillian (Ellie Harvie) secure a traveling Renaissance exhibit from the Seattle History Museum. During the opening gala, however, a prized pearl headpiece, known as Leicester’s Gift and supposedly worn by Queen Elizabeth I, is stolen despite numerous security measures. Suspicion first turns to guard Talbot (Sean Depner), but one guest, Miya (Elfina Luk), also raises eyebrows when she loudly objects to a police search. Ro and her mother, Aida (Marilu Henner), think their friend Howard (Chris Gauthier) might be guilty when his past comes to light, but details of the case also suggest the crime could be an inside job. That puts the museum’s assistant director, Kelly (Michelle Harrison), and board member James (Oliver Rice) under the spotlight, and both take the opportunity to further their grievances by lobbing accusations of irresponsibility and professional jealousy at one another. Things take a turn though when one of the suspects ends up dead.

Cue the Real Murders Club, Ro’s little side project and probably the town of Lawrenceton’s best crime solving unit. Ro and her army of amateur sleuths, including her best friend, Sally (Lexa Doig), and her cousin, Philip (Dylan Sloane), immediately get to work trying to figure out who would want a hundreds year old headpiece and kill for it. They don’t seem to going to their actual jobs, so I guess good on them. I’m a fan of their teamwork, and the series is stronger when it leans on all the characters’ varying personalities instead of solely on Aurora. The group’s dynamic could use some further tweaking though. The diversity of experience that someone like Terry (Catherine Lough Haggquist), the former mayor, or John, Aida’s erstwhile partner, brings is what the series needs to push forward. I’m not yet convinced that Davis (Cole Vigue), a more recent addition, has that sort of presence.

The introduction of Niall Matter as Nick, Ro’s love interest, however, turns out to have been a great choice. As much as I liked former CIA operative Martin (Yannick Bisson), the genial college professor is a better match for Ro and the show. Matter keeps things on the lighter side and is content to let his girl take the lead, except when it comes to proposing marriage. Poor Nick is ready to pop the question, but murder keeps getting in the way. Another barrier might be Ro’s suspicion of Nick’s friend, Eric (Zub), a fellow professor who ends up on her suspect list after he’s less than forthcoming about his interest in the exhibit. Zub is my favorite part of the movie, not just because I love him generally and think should be cast as a romantic lead on the regular but because he is an A-1 dork here and clearly not a “Western Civ” scholar. The guy prints out color articles in 16 point font and got into his field after watching Shakespeare in Love and wondering “whether Elizabeth really did see Shakespeare’s plays.” Cute, but not so cute to escape Ro’s watchful eye. Anyway, if the culprit is Eric, it wouldn’t be the first time one of her boyfriend’s acquaintances was found guilty of murder.

While the case itself is not too thrilling and even ends on an anticlimactic note, the movie still packs a good punch. Peter Benson, who also plays detective Arthur Smith in the series, directs. He has a strong sense of pacing, and the push and pull between the story’s intensity and humor keeps it going. The developments have me looking forward to the next Aurora Teagarden mystery, which is something I don’t usually say.

Highlight for spoilers: It’s the overly charming Brit, James, who staged the theft and then killed the two security guards who knew about it. His wife was divorcing him and in order to prove his love and win her back, he figured an audacious crime would do the trick. Sure, dude. Assistant director Kelly really was just miffed about the whole traveling exhibit idea, but things worked out in the end and she was appointed museum director. Her brother, however, had independently come up with the same plan to nick the headpiece and sort of conspired with his associate Miya, who probably smuggles jewelry on the side, but they never acted on it. Meanwhile, shady Howard only wanted to see David, the first murdered security guard, whom he had befriended during his time in prison, and Eric, well, he’s just an awkward dork. As for Nick, he finally proposed, falling to one knee in the most romantic place possible – the local library stacks.

Released: 2020
Dir: Peter Benson
Writer: Teena Booth
Cast: Candace Cameron Bure, Niall Matter, Marilu Henner, Peter Benson, Lexa Doig, Miranda Frigon, Dylan Sloane, Ellie Harvie, Brendon Zub, Sean Depner, Lisa Marie DiGiacinto, Chris Gauthier, Michelle Harrison, Jay Hindle, Catherine Lough Haggquist, Elfina Luk, Byron Mayberry, Oliver Rice, Cole Vigue
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2020