Review: Crimes Of Passion (S1 E3/6), Saturday 13th September, BBC4

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Crimes of Passion

This week’s episode would have been more accurately entitled ‘You Can Never Go Home Again’ because when our intrepid amateur gumshoes Puck and Einar (Tuva Novotny and Linus Wahlgren) return to Einar’s home village of Skoga they find themselves tripping over yet another corpse. As we are fast learning, no one should invite these sleuthing hobbyists as houseguests because they suffer from that well-worn TV bromide, the Jessica Fletcher syndrome – murder follows in their wake.

The couple, now married for two months, decide to spend a holiday with Einar’s aunt Hulda, accompanied by their Siamese cat Thotmes.

Everything seems hunky dory until the next morning, when Thotmes, usually a house cat, gets bored with watching his owners sporking and follows the call of the wild, only to pad blood back to the house.

Now, in normal households cats are usually responsible for dead bodies on the lawn, but a young man, Tommy Holt – the sullen prodigal adopted son of the neighbouring Holt family – is found stabbed in the back with a dagger in Hulda’s garden.

Detective Christer Wijk (Old Rapace) then rolls up – but he is investigating the death of Britt Andersson, a single woman in Stockholm. She was apparently the natural mother of the dead youth.

So why had Holt returned to the village to reconnect with a family he obviously despised?  The Holts are, it transpires, a pretty rum bunch – even the teenage daughter Agneta is obviously hiding something quite momentous from her parents. Everyone, as usual, closes ranks.

But the resourceful Puck coaxes the weird Petren sisters (shades of the elderly sisters from Don’t Look Now), the local gossips, to spill the beans on the scandal surrounding young Holt.

He had formed some connection with an older woman, local fiction writer Elisabet Mattson (any English-language remake would have to cast Anna Chancellor in this role), who is writing, she tells Wijk, a “dark love story with an unhappy ending”.

From thereon in, the trio get sucked into a murky world of blackmail, possible incest and class bigotry – generally discovering more nasty secrets about the Holts than anyone would want to know.

Wijk, of course, discovers some sexual diversion from the mayhem with the wife of an old acquaintance, now a drunken bankrupt. Again, he’s sailing close to the wind in his dalliance – Lou (Sara Jangfeldt), a blonde femme fatale, is Elisabet’s sister-in-law.

We should keep an eye on Thotmes, though. He deserves his own series as he does the only solid detective work on the case. It is he who turns up key evidence when someone apparently attempts to drown him by wrapping him in a jacket containing a telltale note.

The whole construct of these stories is whisper-thin and, three episodes into the series the writing and characterisation of the leads have not significantly deepened – it is essentially Cluedo with picturesque Swedish scenery and generally more beautiful people than the average British whodunit.

Puck and Einar seem to be on a perpetual holiday from real life (what do they actually do to earn the money to adorn Puck’s spectacular legs in a never-ending supply of stylish pedal-pushers and allow them to live a permanently preppy lifestyle?). Academics don’t earn that much and Einar’s doctorate in history should surely mean that he has to spend at least some time lecturing in Stockholm.

This gossamer substance and the glacial tempo are beginning to pall. Much of the joy of the best Scandi-noirs is the rate as which plots unfold and jack-knife on the protagonists. Like cars, Swedish drama drives better at speed and in the dark.

Deborah Shrewsbury

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