crime

Roux the Day: A Gourmet Detective Mystery (2020)

It took three years for Hallmark to bring back the Gourmet Detective Mysteries, and folks, it was worth the wait. The series has always been a cut above, featuring sharp writing and a quick-witted cast. Each of the previous four movies offered something new without rehashing the same dynamic between its two leads, and this fifth pairing of Brooke Burns and Dylan Neal as a police detective and her sometimes chef boyfriend/crime-solving partner continues to bring a fresh perspective to the series. Roux the Day, again co-written by Neal, trusts its audience’s intelligence and features a layered mystery that’s more than just a crime and a list of suspects. It will have you working twice as hard to connect the dots on your mental pinboard, and even then, you might have trouble piecing together everything before the final reveal.

The case doesn’t start out as a particularly complex one though. Maggie (Burns) and Henry (Neal) come across a dead body while searching an antiques shop for a prized chef’s book, a restaurant’s bible containing all its secret recipes. This particular book holds the key to the success of Belvedere’s, a shuttered but once beloved San Francisco institution. Thought to be long lost, it suddenly comes up for auction and attracts the interest of a number of people who can’t wait to get their hands on it, either to borrow some recipes or just to set eyes on this important piece of culinary history. Before it even hits the auction block, however, the book is sold and then goes missing under mysterious circumstances, which includes the murder of the person who last handled it.

Maggie and Henry zero in on a few suspects right away. He has it out for Elsa (Jennifer Copping), a food critic with a poisonous pen and someone who was pretty upset about the cancelled auction. Maggie, meanwhile, senses something squishy about Leah (Myrasol Martinez), the owner of a relatively new Creole restaurant in town that could use a secret recipe or two to boost its sagging business. The pair also pay a visit to Nicholas Belvedere (Lane Edwards), heir to the family fortune and someone with no interest in the restaurant business, if you believe what he says. The deeper Maggie and Henry get into this case though, the more suspicious characters come out of the woodwork with everyone seeming to have a hand in this one way or other.

Unlike most other whodunnits in Hallmark’s lineup, this mystery will really stretch your coach potato sleuthing skills. Just when you think you’ve figured it out, some new clue worms its way into picture, prompting a reframe of the whole theory. The best thing about this movie though isn’t the case but the relationship between Maggie and Henry. I’ve become invested in the pair, who are different from most other crime solving couples. For once, Maggie takes the lead as the sharp-nosed detective while Henry plays her hapless sidekick, a role reversal done with some humor and humility. More importantly, neither feels the need to prove anything. They’ve reached a point in their relationship where both value the skills the other brings to the team, and though Henry can be sarcastic, his personality never feels overbearing like it did in the early going. Their respect and love for one another guide everything, leading to some unexpectedly touching moments in the middle of a murder investigation.

Highlight for spoilers: While he didn’t pull the trigger, Nicholas Belvedere is the top villain in all this. Nicholas had long known that the restaurant’s popularity was due to a secret ingredient – absinthe – which his family continued to use long after it was banned in food and drink. Josie, the woman in charge of the auction, got ahold of the chef’s book from Milo, the book binder, and decided to sell it, not knowing Belvedere’s dark past. When Nicholas found out, he needed to keep the book out of public view, lest people discover the truth and sue him out of his inheritance. He was in fact the one who anonymously hired Henry to bid on the book. BUT Josie found out about the whole absinthe business, and since Nicholas’s grandfather was her first love, she didn’t want anything to happen to Nicholas and so removed the book from auction. She also asked Milo to make a quick replica without the references to absinthe. MEANWHILE, Nicholas hired Daniel, the guy in the park, to steal the book from Richie, the guy killed in the opening scene. Daniel wanted to sell the book to pay off his gambling debts though, so Nicholas got Dominic to kill Daniel. HOWEVER, the book that these guys were chasing was the forged copy with the original still in Josie’s possession. ALSO and possibly the main reason Nicholas was so desperate to keep the book away from the public was because he was running his own shady operation on the side and didn’t want to invite further scrutiny. He and Dominic were childhood friends, and the latter set up a distillery with the backing of the former. Dominic was flogging this new Emerald Dream drink all around town and it was quickly becoming a hit because he was illegally spiking it with thujone, a derivative of absinthe and a byproduct of wormwood, which Nicholas supplied from his greenhouses.

Released: 2020
Dir: Mark Jean
Writer: Becky Southwell, Dylan Neal
Cast: Dylan Neal, Brooke Burns, Bruce Boxleitner, Ali Skovbye, Samantha Ferris, Lane Edwards, Jennifer Copping, Myrasol Martinez,Noel Johansen, Alex Barima
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2019

Murder, She Wrote: The Celtic Riddle (2003)

Sometimes the best way to solve a case is to work backwards, so with that in mind, I’m starting Murder, She Wrote with Jessica Fletcher’s very last mystery, The Celtic Riddle. I’m not proud to say that I’ve never seen an episode of the long-running CBS series, though strictly speaking this one is a movie, but I’m also not sure I’ll be playing catch up with its 264 episodes any time soon. (This is where I plug British mysteries, which remain a bingeable six to eight episodes per season.) Happily, Ms. Fletcher’s last bow doesn’t require one to be immersed in the Murder, She Wrote universe, and it’s easy to pick up just where our detective is about to leave off.

The case initially comes to Jessica (Angela Lansbury) by way of an invitation. She arrives in Ireland for the reading of a will and is surprised to learn that Eamon Byrne, a man she had only met a few times, has bequeathed to her a small but picturesque property called Rose Cottage. The move provokes the ire of Eamon’s wife, Margaret (Fionnula Flanagan), and elder daughter, Fiona (Geraldine Hughes), who also resent his gifts to other non-family members, like the groundskeeper (Sean Lawlor) and the business associate (Andrew Connolly). They are further angered when everyone is given a second opportunity to partake in Eamon’s riches. Each person is given a clue that they will need share in order to find the final part of their inheritance.

Convincing everyone to work together proves to be an impossible task. Their general animosity towards one another is enough of a hurdle, but when people start turning up dead, it really puts a kink in things. Oddly, no one else seems shocked or worried about the mounting bodies, except for Jessica who’s seen enough of this to know it’s not a coincidence. The police inspector (Timothy V. Murphy), however, isn’t inclined to believe the little old lady with an overactive imagination when she cries murder, leaving it up to Jessica to sort this out before she gets killed.

She finds a kindred soul in Eamon’s younger daughter, Breeta (Sarah-Jane Potts), who inherited nothing of material value but who shares her father’s passion for Irish myths and puzzles. Breeta’s knowledge is the key to finding the family treasure, and the two are eager to solve the riddle together, but Breeta’s relationships with her boyfriend, Paddy (Cyril O’Reilly), and the gardener, Michael (Joe Michael Burke), threaten their progress.

A few guest performances make this marginally Irish-themed mystery enjoyable. I loved Potts’s sweetness, and she fills Breeta with a joy that is pure and easy to embrace. Flanagan also radiates a certain vibrancy, but hers is that of someone digging into her part. She dominates every scene she’s in as the greedy, haughty widow, stopping just short of parody even as she wails about contesting the will and pulls desk keys out of her bra. On the other side of the spectrum is Lynn Wanlass, who plays the maid, Nora. Wanlass is striking in her timidity and plain creepy with her vampire eyes. What made less of an impression was Ireland itself, which pops in for a few cameos. I had hoped for more exterior shots, but the film relies on the suggestion of Ireland instead, filling the gaps with Celtic music and some Irish dancing in a pub.

Highlight for spoilers: The Connemara mug gave it away. Why else would you focus on an ugly prop? Charles McCafferty (Tegan West), Eamon’s associate, orchestrated the family’s downfall and wanted the treasure for himself. Eamon’s illegitimate son, he was adopted by abusive parents and wanted the Byrnes to share in his suffering. He manipulated the business so that it would lose money and then killed the others so that he could get the inheritance. He killed John, who knew where the treasure was hidden, then Michael, who saw John’s murder, and finally Nora, who was his aunt and a liability.

Released: 2003
Dir: Anthony Shaw
Writer: Rosemary Anne Sisson, Bruce Lansbury
Cast: Angela Lansbury, Fionnula Flanagan, Sarah-Jane Potts, Tegan West, Cyril O’Reilly, Lynn Wanlass, Timothy V. Murphy, Joe Michael Burke, Andrew Connolly, Geraldine Hughes, Sean Lawlor
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: CBS
Reviewed: 2019

Eat, Drink, and Be Buried: A Gourmet Detective Mystery (2017)

So this is how it ends. The Gourmet Detective rides off into the sunset, never to be seen or heard from again. I hope Hallmark will bring it back, but if not, at least the show left on a high note. Probably the best Gourmet Detective yet, this film has everything you want and expect from a series that has consistently excelled in both acting and storytelling. The characters continue to reveal new things about themselves, and this latest mystery is an intriguing tangle of clues and suspects.

It’s a simple case of murder, as far as these things go, and the killer must be one of several family members. Our detectives, Maggie Price (Brooke Burns) and Henry Ross (Dylan Neal), once again find themselves involved in the investigation due to Henry’s connections when the couple, together now for three months, are invited to the birthday party of Henry’s friend, David Weston (Garry Chalk). During the festivities, David, the owner of a centuries-old family publishing house, has his son and step-son reenact a duel from family lore, but the reenactment turns deadly.

Doug (Chris McNally) shoots Ken (Toby Levins) by accident, or so it seems. He’s made no attempts to hide his dislike for his step-brother since his father married Ken’s mother years ago, and now David’s recent decision to hand the business to his step-son has increased their hostility. But the Weston boys are not the only ones holding grudges; the Weston daughters are also at war. Felicity (Vanessa Walsh) and Angela (Brittney Wilson) can’t be in the same room without clawing each other’s eyes out. (Not really though; none of this King Lear nonsense.) Both are suspects – Felicity as a possible accomplice to her brother Doug, and Angela, along with her husband, Colin (David Paetkau), for financial reasons. Everyone is shifty AF, whether they’re hiding affairs or just looking at each other wrong. When other family members start falling victim to unexplained accidents, it seems there might not be any Westons left.

They’re not the only ones with a problem, however, and Maggie and Henry have their own issues to work out, though none as deadly. Maggie, for good reason, resents Henry’s secrecy about his past when she’s been generous about hers. A little spat over his upcoming birthday could turn into something more serious and threatens to doom the romance. An unexpected appearance by Henry’s father, Jim (Bruce Boxleitner), forces the couple to talk things over though.

The quality of the show’s writing and acting is best reflected in the development of Maggie and Henry’s relationship. When I started the series, I didn’t like the Gourmet Detective at all. I found him condescending and felt that Maggie could do just as well without this bloated male ego. However, each episode added a new layer to the characters, and we got to see the couple cycle through different types of partnerships, first as adversaries, then as reluctant collaborators, then as supportive colleagues, and finally as romantic partners. Burns and Neal are both excellent and take us through their characters’ growing pains. The former radiates poise and calm, and I’m inclined to side with her whatever the situation. Neal, on the other hand, takes on a trickier part, but he deftly navigates Henry’s faults and charms, revealing a side to him that is not all vanity. Had the series continued, I would have liked a regular role for Jim because in this story, he showed that Henry also used his bluster to hide feelings of hurt and anger.

There are a lot more stories Gourmet Detective could have told, and can still tell…hello, Hallmark. I haven’t mentioned the Maggie’s colleagues much, but I enjoyed their larger presence in the last two movies. Not only do we get to see Maggie working with the junior detectives, but her captain (Samantha Ferris) gets to do more than stand around giving orders from her office door. I like that there are two women running the operation, and that rivalry and pettiness isn’t part of the picture at all.

Highlight for spoilers: Colin the Killer. Contrary to his claim that he was operating a robust food business (frozen meals, protein powder, the like), Colin was actually losing money, a lot of it. He wanted to kill Ken and his father-in-law so that Doug would be in charge of the company, betting that Doug would then sell it and give Angela part of that money. He cut Felicity’s brake lines because she got suspicious after hearing that the business was up for sale, which she knew to be false.

Released: 2017
Dir: Mark Jean
Writer: Becky Southwell, Dylan Neal
Cast: Dylan Neal, Brooke Burns, Matthew Kevin Anderson, Mark Senior, Ali Skovbye, Samantha Ferris, Shannon Chan-Kent, Brenda Crichlow, David Paetkau, Brittney Wilson, Garry Chalk, Vanessa Walsh, Chris McNally, Toby Levins
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2019