In 1994, Patrick Malahide starred as Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn in “Dead Water“, the third and penultimate episode of the second (and sadly, final) “Inspector Alleyn Mysteries” series. Based on Ngaio Marsh’s 1964 novel by the same name, the episode finds Alleyn called away from a long-anticipated vacation to solve a Scottish murder mystery, surrounded by miracle cures, Highland steers, Scottish pixies, Celtic cultists, and his old French teacher, with Troy (Belinda Lang) along for the ride. No cigarette cases or paintings this time, I swear! Okay, there’s one watercolour, and it’s part of a relevant plot point. But other than that, it’s just adventure, mystery, and a nice dollop of romance, with a distinct change in store for our detective.
A Miracle Cure
However, we have a bit of a prologue before getting to the really good stuff. It’s 1947 in Portacarrick, Argyll, and Walter McNabb (Ewen Bremner), a mentally challenged youth, is fleeing a bunch of children calling him names and flinging things at him. They don’t like him because he’s different, chiefly because his hands are badly afflicted with warts. He gets in a boat and rows across to a nearby island where there’s a natural spring and waterfall. In his distress, Walter hears a woman’s voice calling him by name and sees a vision of a beautiful lady in green at the top of the falls. She asks what’s wrong and still sobbing, he replies that his hands are all warty and “manky”. The Green Lady tells him washing his hands in the water will make them “clean”, “if [he] believe[s]”. Then, she vanishes.
The Indomitable Miss Emily Pride
Before we can find out if the miracle worked, it’s now three years later in Miss Emily Pride’s (Margaret Tyzack) London home. She has a table full of interesting memorabilia, including a framed medal and a picture of a woman (likely herself?) in a World War I-style nursing uniform. She comes across as very no-nonsense and direct; when we first see her she’s in the midst of dictating a stern letter to her solicitors about the “unwarranted commercial exploitation” taking place at Portacarrick. Miss Emily and the spring are evidently connected somehow; she has a collection of newspaper clippings about the “Scottish Lourdes” and “miraculous waterfall” (aha, so the cure did work), so we can guess where her disgust over “commercial exploitation” comes from. She’s interrupted by a delivery which her secretary, Miss Godwin (Lynsey Beauchamp), goes to receive. The package is postmarked from Portacarrick, coincidentally enough – and Miss Godwin opens it, only to find something so terrible she recoils in horrified shock (we never do get to see what it is). However, Miss Emily merely purses her lips in determination, boding nothing good for the sender once she tracks him (or her) down.
On His Majesty’s Secret Service
Our next stop is Waterloo Station, where Alleyn, wearing his usual homburg and an improbably clean cream-coloured overcoat, has just returned from what looks to be a protracted trip overseas. He’s under military escort, sporting a flattering tan, and smiling appreciatively at the scenery as if he hasn’t seen it for ages. But he doesn’t get too much time to enjoy it, because he’s immediately hustled into a military vehicle and taken to Whitehall. Evidently he’s spent the past few months seconded from his usual job with Scotland Yard in order to do something super-sneaky for the Ministry of Defence in Egypt (we catch a brief glimpse of a map), hearkening back to his work with the British Foreign Service after World War I (or II, depending on how the series re-arranged the timelines).
In fact, Alleyn’s done such a good job on his top secret mission that he’s actually back early, although he wordlessly pleads with his Brigadier liaison (Trevor Bowen) not to enlighten Scotland Yard of that fact. Instead, Alleyn says he has a report to produce which he’s promised “someone” (would that be a certain world-famous painter someone??) he’d write in “congenial surroundings”. The Brigadier agrees with Alleyn’s reasoning and passes on a stack of mail, helpfully intercepted before it missed Alleyn overseas. Amongst a large pile of mash notes from Troy (I’m assuming, but it seems logical), Alleyn finds an unexpected note from Miss Emily. Though initially pleased by the sender’s name, the note’s contents soon have him frowning in concern: Miss Emily, who inherited her sister’s property in Portacarrick, believes someone in that village means to do her harm. And indeed, we see at least a couple of the residents are deeply resentful of her upcoming visit.
Deciding to check in with his old teacher, Alleyn calls Troy to let her know he’ll be delayed picking her up for the train. She’s half-jokingly jealous at being put off for a woman out of “[his] past”, and Alleyn quips back that he’s “lost count” of all the others (mostly actresses, according to Ngaio Marsh). But Miss Pride taught him colloquial French as part of his war service, so he feels obligated to help her. Troy’s somewhat mollified and wee bit embarrassed to learn Miss Pride is actually 65 and therefore not that much of a threat – although that’s before she meets her.
Death Threats and Quack Cures
Alleyn meets Miss Emily at the British Museum’s library (aaauuuuggghhh!! I’m so jealous!) and, after peremptorily demanding where he’s been as if she expected him from Egypt half an hour ago, they adjourn to the Elgin Marbles display (AAAAUUUGGGHH!!) for further discussion. Miss Emily tells Alleyn that ever since Wally McNabb’s warts were cured, the residents of Portacarrick, and especially Miss Elspeth Cost, have publicized the falls’ curative properties, crediting a mystical connection with old Celtic ways and profiting from them. Miss Pride doesn’t mind if people visit the falls, but she doesn’t want them bilked for the privilege. Nor does she want them relying on false hope like her sister, who believed in the waters but ultimately couldn’t be saved by them. While Miss Emily’s sister tolerated the falls’ commercialization during her lifetime, Miss Emily wants to end it, by legal means if necessary, so she’s now receiving anonymous death threats. One such newspaper cut-out letter advises her that “power to heal can flow backwards and kill”, which sounds distinctly ominous.
But wait, there’s more! Miss Emily insists that Alleyn come back to her flat for tea so she can show him something, heedless of the fact he obviously has to be elsewhere (he nervously and somewhat awkwardly checks his watch while juggling two brollies, Miss Emily’s library books, his attaché case, and her purse – suffering for being a gentleman). The “something” turns out to be an antlered human skull (representing Herne, perhaps, or a human jackalope?), a Celtic artifact Miss Emily describes to Alleyn as “a mystery”. She reiterates that while she reveres the past and has nothing against the Celtic religion, she believes Portacarrick’s residents are forming a “pernicious fake” of a “cult” to separate as many gullible people from their money as possible. Miss Emily intends to settle the matter once and for all by going to Scotland in person to put a stop to it. However, she’s still well aware her life might be in danger, so she asks Alleyn if he can arrange a firearms license and marksmanship lessons for her as “adequate protection” – or better yet, if Alleyn can go with her himself.
Horrified at the thought of his 65-year-old French tutor toting a gun, Alleyn pleads with Miss Emily to drop the whole idea, promising to look into it as soon as he’s back from… writing his report. Miss Emily pulls out the big guns, woefully lamenting Alleyn’s preference for the “youth and […] beauty of this so-called report” (she’s not the slightest bit fooled) over her “concerns, no matter how serious they are”. She seems very wounded by Alleyn’s refusal to accompany her. Alleyn stands firm, refusing to succumb to “emotional blackmail” and pleading with Miss Emily to let her lawyers handle it until he gets back. He thinks he’s finally convinced her when she compliments his persuasiveness; she seems to agree with him, but her thoughtful look as he leaves (after shyly admitting his “report” is an artist named Agatha Troy) suggests she might have other plans in mind.
Absence Makes the Heart Grow… Really, Really Fond
Meanwhile, Troy’s trying on her walking boots and impatiently waiting for Alleyn at her aunt’s house. He finally shows up, apparently after stopping at his place to shower, shave, and ditch the pinstriped suit, tie, and homburg in favour of a more relaxed tweedy grey number, ascot, and fedora (my favourite 😉 ). However, he makes up for his lateness by greeting her with a hug and a significantly more passionate kiss than we’ve seen before, multi-tasking by kicking the door shut without looking rather than take his attention off her (I just loved that). He really has been away for months. Troy compliments Alleyn’s “fetching tan” (and it is) and gloats over their holiday: “Not working for you, watercolouring for me,” while Alleyn’s just relieved to have persuaded “the most stubborn woman in the universe” (Miss Emily, second only to Troy) to listen to reason. Or has he?
Persona Non Grata
Back at Portacarrick, we begin to get an idea of the dynamics at work as the inhabitants prepare for Miss Emily’s visit. Miss Elspeth Cost (Janet Lapotaire, who also appeared with Mr. Malahide in the “Another Country” episode of “Wings”) is the chief promoter of the falls as a miracle cure and the one with the most to lose if or when Miss Emily succeeds in blocking its commercial possibilities. She’s a Woman of a Certain Age with a reputation as a meddling busybody and a prurient interest in everyone else’s sex lives. In fact, she’s so annoying that local hotelier Major Keith Ballantyne (James Cosmo) prefers his wife, Margaret (Eleanor David), to deal with her. Even the local minister, Reverend Alistair Cruickshank (Robert McIntosh) and his wife Dulcie (Mona Bruce) would rather hide from Miss Cost than speak to her. Nonetheless, Portacarrick’s leading citizens meet in a council of war, trying to decide how best to handle Miss Emily. They agree they don’t like her, but even they can’t reach a unanimous conclusion about the falls. While the Reverend Cruickshank thinks God should be thanked for any cures they produce, local doctor Robert Nairn (James Laurenson) refuses to call their effects a miracle. Miss Cost, however, repeatedly and steadfastly attests that the waters cured her asthma. The only thing the councillors do seem to unite on is their dislike of Miss Emily, whose arrival in Portacarrick (we knew she wouldn’t stay in London) is greeted with angry resentment by everyone.
Miss Emily goes to see the falls for herself, insisting on paying her own admission and observing the pilgrims who’ve come to seek a cure with barely disguised disgust and pity. She confronts Miss Cost at her store, telling her that she can renew her lease at the previous rate, but only if everything else monetarily connected with the falls – admission fees, “Green Lady” statuettes (tackily repainted Madonnas), and vials of “sacred” water – goes. Miss Cost tries to argue for the artistic and historic merits of her “work”, but Miss Emily isn’t buying. She declares that Miss Cost will be allowed only one more “festival” at the falls before they’re free for everyone, which causes Miss Cost to agitate herself into a severe attack of the asthma she’s supposedly cured of. Miss Emily seems genuinely concerned about Miss Cost’s illness and tries to help, but Miss Cost sends her away, getting a parting shot in by calling Miss Emily a “wicked woman” for bringing the attack on her.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
While Miss Emily is in the lions’ den, Alleyn is miles away and blissfully unaware, sunning himself on a lawn in a lovely straw fedora, relaxing while Troy sketches. It’s all going swimmingly until he’s called away to the phone, where Miss Godwin informs him that Miss Emily has gone off to Portacarrick on her own, against his advice. He then worries and mopes for the rest of the day, trying to figure out what to do. Troy, very pragmatically and, some might say, somewhat callously (well, her vacation has been ruined, and Alleyn’s, too), declares that since Miss Emily ignored his advice, he’s under no obligation to go running after her. However, Alleyn’s still in a quandary because Miss Emily’s never asked for his help before and wouldn’t, unless it was really serious. He’s caught between a rock and a hard place, not wanting to displease Troy but feeling he has to help Miss Emily. It’s not like the outcome is really in doubt, though; we already know he’ll end up in Portacarrick sooner or later.
(Side note: it’s made very plain that Troy and Alleyn are not up to any hanky-panky on this vacation. They’re staying in two separate rooms at the inn, as indicated by the two separate room keys on the table in front of them, so get rid of those naughty thoughts, darn it! Oh, and there’s a cute little room key mix-up when Troy takes Alleyn’s key “by mistake”, although I’m sure she was actually planning to sneak off somewhere and have a copy made before Alleyn noticed. She should, is what I’m saying.)
An Attempted Murder
Back at Portacarrick, things have taken a turn for the worse. Miss Emily finds a threatening note (“DEATH OF ELDERLY LADY”, pretty unambiguous), pinned to her pillow with a vicious-looking hatpin by an unseen intruder in the night, then she’s nearly run over by a runaway handcart whose chocks have been deliberately kicked away. Alleyn and Troy arrive just in time for the aftermath; Miss Emily is bruised but otherwise still cantankerous and not badly injured. Now that a serious attempt on her life seems to have been made, Alleyn’s even more concerned than he was before. However, Miss Emily – who, if you’ll remember, tried to sweet-talk Alleyn into coming to Portacarrick with her for protection – pooh-poohs the whole thing, dismissively calling it an accident and bemoaning “[everyone] making such a fuss”. A somewhat jetlagged (trainlagged?) Alleyn, who’s cut his
romantic getaway report-writing short in order to drag himself and Troy all the way to non-sunny Scotland, loses his temper just a bit at that. “Well, I dare say it was a bit fussy of me coming all this way! Perhaps I’ll go back, shall I?” he says angrily, before stomping off. Miss Emily realizes she’s angered him, but she still stubbornly refuses to take his advice. She tells Troy that she hasn’t gotten to where she is (and Troy hasn’t gotten to where she is) by listening to men, so she won’t start now, even for Alleyn.
As Troy settles in at Dr. Nairn’s rental cottage across the lake (see, no hanky-panky! There’s an entire loch between her and Alleyn!), Alleyn investigates the runaway trolley. Major Ballantyne insists all safety procedures should have been followed, with the trolley being left securely chocked, so his only explanation is that some “pea-brained idiot” must have bolloxed things up. When Alleyn says he doesn’t think it could have been an accident, Ballantyne goes on the offensive, literally: “You’re a bit posh for a cop around here. I’ve met your type before. Swanky armoured regiments thinking they’re cavalry, with horses still.” Somewhat ironic in view of Alleyn’s recent return from a successful top-secret diplomatic mission. Refusing to be provoked, he calmly answers, “I’m still a copper.” “Yes,” sneers Ballantyne contemptuously, before striding away.
Back at Pixie Falls, Miss Cost is rehearsing for her big day. The festival mostly seems to involve an artistic recreation of Wally McNabb’s healing (I have to give Wally credit for memorizing some truly awful poetry) with green-clad pixies, music, interpretive dance, and starring Miss Cost herself as the Green Lady. However, it doesn’t go over as well as she might hope. None of the onlookers (the Ballantynes, the Cruickshanks, Dr. Nairn, Miss Emily, and Troy) take the show very seriously, with the poem in particular inciting snickers of amusement. In Miss Cost’s mind, the laughter blows up to raucous, nightmarish proportions until it overwhelms her, causing an emotional breakdown. Adding insult to injury, it starts to rain and her asthma comes back again. Soaking wet and with mascara streaking her face, Miss Cost vows to get revenge: “Barbarians! Filthy barbarians! This is sacred ground! You defile it with your presence! Your filthy practices will be punished, believe me! I will punish you!” The last line is uttered in a gasp, since she can barely catch her breath.
A Gift from Egypt
After all that excitement, Alleyn and Troy see Miss Emily to her room. She realizes Alleyn’s still angry with her, but re-emphasizes she’s not there on “a whim” – although she still doesn’t explain further. Our duo then finally have the chance for a little “alone” time, when Alleyn’s suddenly reminded he brought Troy a gift from Egypt. It’s a wee little box that looks very promising until Alleyn mentions he could hardly go to Egypt “and come back without a dung beetle.” He waxes rhapsodic about the dung beetle’s amazing ability to roll a ball of dung up a slope and let it roll back down again to form a perfect sphere, adding that the ancient Egyptians thought a dung beetle god did the same thing with the Sun each day. Troy begins to eye the little box with increasing trepidation, but it all turns out okay because Alleyn has actually brought her a rather lovely scarab pin. Aaaaww!! Much better than a pineapple. 😉 The gift inspires a kiss which, if anything, is even more passionate than the one at Troy’s aunt’s house. After a slight interlude, Troy reluctantly says she’d better get back to her boat (quick, copy his room key!) and a pleasantly flummoxed Alleyn agrees, “I think perhaps you’d better!” Okay, maybe Scotland isn’t all bad.
That night, the mysterious intruder returns to Miss Emily’s room, this time leaving behind one of Miss Cost’s Green Lady statuettes, streaked with blood (or red paint) and a tag marked “DEATH” fastened around its neck. Miss Emily is nowhere to be found the next morning and Alleyn, noticing the statuette, is understandably worried. He runs to the Pixie Falls grotto and is horrified to see a body floating in the pool. It’s dressed in black with an umbrella floating nearby and certainly looks as if it could be Miss Emily, but by the time Superintendent Campbell (Tom Watson) and Dr. Nairn arrive, Alleyn has dragged the body to shore and identified it as… Miss Cost. Looking on from a hidden spot, poor Wally McNabb appears overcome by shock and grief.
As for Miss Emily, she turns up alive and well, having left her room that morning to post a notice at the falls and take a walk. Alleyn’s relieved she’s alive, but infuriated at the same time. Miss Emily can’t understand his concern until he forcefully spells out that Miss Cost was likely murdered because the murderer mistook her for Miss Emily at a distance. He considers her death “a direct result of [Miss Emily’s] most incredible obstinacy!” in refusing his advice to stay home. That news subdues the usually feisty Miss Emily a great deal, and she sits down in shock. For all of her other qualities, she seems compassionate even to those she dislikes (she did try to help Miss Cost during her asthma attack), and doesn’t appear to wish harm on anyone. Her unexpected reaction acts like a dash of cold water on Alleyn, but he’s still deeply worried the killer will try again.
Investigating the Crime
Now wearing what look to be brand-spanking-new hip waders (did he bring those along on vacation?), Alleyn investigates the scene of the crime. He finds a large rock that seems out of place in the pool, which he identifies as the probable murder weapon. Superintendent Campbell finds footprints above the falls, but they’ve already been muddled by new prints from Dr. Nairn, who has to be asked not to confuse the crime scene any further. Alleyn also finds Miss Emily’s torn-down notice in the water, explaining that she, as the new owner, dissociates herself from any claims of the spring’s curative qualities and intends to return the property to its natural state. Alleyn’s convinced the torn-down notice means Miss Emily had to be the murderer’s target rather than Miss Cost, although Superintendent Campbell doesn’t seem quite so sure. Dr. Nairn puts the time of death at around 8:00 AM and further confirms he saw Miss Cost heading towards the falls at 7:00 AM, but he didn’t see anyone else in the area besides Wally. Wally openly disliked Miss Emily and adored Miss Cost, but it’s not certain if he threw the rock that killed the latter.
Alleyn returns to the hotel to investigate how the intruder could have possibly gotten into Miss Emily’s room. Miss Emily asks if he’s forgiven her and he says he hasn’t; he then asks her to explain what she’s really doing in Portacarrick. She tells him it all goes back to her sister, whom Miss Emily describes as a “good person” who was “cruelly exploited” by Miss Cost. Miss Emily’s sister had a malignant tumour which was operable, but Miss Cost convinced her she could be cured by the falls’ waters instead. By the time Miss Emily’s sister returned to London, her condition was inoperable and terminal. “She killed my sister,” declares Miss Emily, adding bluntly, “I’m not sorry she’s dead.” Alleyn cautiously suggests she might not want to say that to anyone else in Portacarrick, but Miss Emily is willing to “shout it from the rooftops”. Despite the fact the villagers hate her, she’s still determined to end the false hope offered by the falls so no one else suffers as her sister did. As a compromise, she agrees to stay in her room while Alleyn finishes the investigation. The two of them do seem to be on improved terms, now that he understands her a little better.
Bailey and Br’er Arrive
Unfortunately for Alleyn, Miss Emily’s promise doesn’t last too long. She’s so stubbornly persistent about leaving her room that housemaid Jenny Williams (Karen Westwood) has to resort to locking her in. Fortunately for Alleyn, Inspector Br’er Fox (William Simons) and D.S. Bailey (Tim Dutton) arrive from London just in time. They even experience a little culture shock, eyeing the Highland cattle munching hay by the quayside in startled fascination (these cows appear to be teleporters, since they manage to show up in nearly every outdoor shot). Alleyn promptly delegates Fox to tell Miss Emily she’s under “protective custody”, confined to her room under police guard for the duration. Fox undertakes the job with a diplomatic smile; he’s completely immune to Miss Emily’s button-pushing where Alleyn isn’t, and he carefully leaves her no wiggle room.
Back at the falls, Alleyn, Fox, and Bailey immediately set about collecting evidence. Superintendent Campbell shows Alleyn a spot called “Lovers’ Hollow” which held a peculiar fascination for Miss Cost; she was always nagging the police and Reverend Cruickshank to put a stop to the “disgusting behaviour” going on there (which she knew all about, of course). Bailey also finds a cigar butt and footprint likely belonging to Major Ballantyne. Later that night, Alleyn (who’s still convinced Miss Emily was, and is, the real target) meets with his staff for a summing-up of what they’ve got so far: nearly everyone’s a suspect, but Ballantyne and Dr. Nairn are the frontrunners since they’d both lose the most if invalids stopped coming to Portacarrick. Bailey also identifies the “DEATH” tag on Miss Emily’s Green Lady statuette as having come from a newspaper called The Sporting Chronicle. Elsewhere in the village, a young police constable on patrol is knocked out by an unseen intruder, who then begins to ransack Miss Cost’s store.
Identifying the Green Lady
Alleyn also interviews Margaret Ballantyne on her own, setting the Green Lady statuette found in Miss Emily’s room in front of her. Her opinion of Miss Cost is still that she was a “meddling busybody” who didn’t have anything useful to do with her life. Alleyn suggests a slightly more sympathetic view: that Miss Cost “embroidered” the story of the Green Lady to “give her life some meaning” because she was so lonely. Mrs. Ballantyne calls the Green Lady story “nonsense” and Alleyn agrees, but he asserts it was based in reality: “Wally’s a simple lad, but he tells the truth. She wore a green dress and she was beautiful. It was you, wasn’t it?” Mrs. Ballantyne bows her head, silently admitting the truth. Later, Alleyn sees proof of the unhappiness in the Ballantynes’ marriage when he overhears Mrs. Ballantyne arguing with her son, Patrick (Richard Dempsey), over the Major. Mrs. Ballantyne blames Miss Cost and the Major’s “own guilty conscience” for his turning from a rather personable gentleman into a nasty, violent drunk.
Putting Pressure on the Major
Alleyn interviews the Major himself the next morning. A more congenial Ballantyne tells Alleyn he has an alibi for the time of the murder; he was in bed, recovering from the previous night’s drinking. After Alleyn comments on his smoking, he offers Alleyn a cigar, which Alleyn promptly stows away as evidence. Still in “friendly” mode, the Major then helpfully tells Alleyn that local gossip – which he, of course, doesn’t believe himself – has Miss Emily and Miss Cost hating each other (true), with Miss Emily blaming Miss Cost for her sister’s death (also true). Oblivious to Alleyn’s increasingly icy gaze (he doesn’t seem to like Miss Emily being accused of murder), Ballantyne adds that Miss Emily certainly had the opportunity to murder Miss Cost, since she was at the falls “hanging up her damn notice” that morning. Alleyn then pulls his trump card: “Well, you should know. You were there, too.”
Now Alleyn turns up the heat on Ballantyne, saying he knows the Major was at the falls (Ballantyne initially tries to deny it) and asking about his relations with Miss Cost. The Major becomes increasingly nervous and belligerent as he’s questioned, accusing Alleyn of “sticking [his] nose in like some bum-sniffing dog”. Alleyn, who’s probably heard worse in his career, remains imperturbable throughout, although I think he shows just a smidge of well-concealed enjoyment at the Major’s squirming. He also confirms that the Major takes The Sporting Chronicle, the same newspaper Bailey identified as supplying the “DEATH” tag on Miss Emily’s statuette. None of it looks very good for Ballantyne.
Miss Cost’s… Strange Hobbies
It looks even worse for the Major when Alleyn interviews the Reverend and Mrs. Cruickshank. They confirm that Miss Cost made a play for nearly every eligible (and ineligible) male within Portacarrick’s limits, including Dr. Nairn, a disinterested accountant, a librarian, and the very married Reverend himself. But despite her best efforts, she only succeeded in reaching “an understanding with the Major”, explaining his acute discomfort at Alleyn’s questioning. According to Mrs. Cruickshank, Miss Cost was so “obsessed with sex”, she kept detailed tabs on courting couples and could quote assignation times, dates, and places. “She quoted times?” asks an incredulous Alleyn. “Oh, yes,” replies Mrs. Cruickshank matter-of-factly, “She went looking for them. She was a voyeuse. She collected them.” Sort of like butterflies or bird-watching, I guess.
While all of this unfortunate reinforcement of spinster stereotypes is going on, Bailey and Fox investigate Miss Cost’s flat. Bailey finds a key hidden under her bed, which just happens to open a lockbox Fox finds concealed in a compartment under some floorboards. The lockbox contains Miss Cost’s diaries, one of which is a coded listing of all the illicit trysts she spied on (fake Celtic rituals are beginning to look like the more tame of her hobbies). Then Bailey finds a secret room hidden behind Miss Cost’s wardrobe, which contains… a darkroom, chock-full of naughty photos taken during Miss Cost’s excursions to Lovers’ Hollow. “Crikey!” exclaims Alleyn in bemused admiration, when Fox and Bailey present their discoveries. “Any distinguishing features?” he waggishly asks, displaying one particularly leggy photograph. “Well, you’d have to be a foot fetishist to recognize this one,” Fox replies. He seems to be well-used to his guv’s sense of humour. However, Alleyn realizes there’s at least one more diary out there, since they’ve only found the previous month’s. He also believes the mysterious intruder was after the diaries when he or she broke into the store. Meanwhile, back at the hotel, the Major seems to be going through a crisis. He holds his service revolver in front of his face as if he’s preparing to kill himself… but drops it to the floor, weeping, when he can’t make himself pull the trigger.
The Missing Diary
Back downstairs in the store, Alleyn and Fox go over the timeline again to see if there’s something they missed. Troy comes in and Alleyn greets her with a kiss, becoming momentarily (and adorably) distracted; Fox is forced to wait patiently until his guv’s mind is back on his business. 😉 But perhaps Troy’s presence is inspirational; while watching Cissie McCulloch (Andrea Gibb), Miss Cost’s mousy assistant, give the mail to the postman, Alleyn suddenly realizes the missing diary has to be in the post. Fox and Bailey rush outside to detain the postman as a puzzled-looking Troy tells Alleyn their timeline doesn’t make sense – but we don’t immediately find out why.
Alleyn reads the diary that night. It consists mostly of Miss Cost’s fluttery excitement at having men “[stare] at [her] ankles” combined with angrily watching Mrs. Ballantyne (in a green dress) arrive at Lovers’ Hollow for a tryst with an unnamed man. Miss Cost is so infuriated with “him” that she vows to get revenge by sending her diary “to the proper authorities”. The diary also helps Alleyn realize that Miss Cost wasn’t killed because she was mistaken for Miss Emily. As he apologetically explains to Miss Emily later, she was killed “because she was Miss Cost”, with her extensive records of Portacarrick’s sex lives.
Solving the Murder
Solving the murder isn’t Alleyn’s only problem that night; different tensions are brewing at the hotel. He arrives downstairs just in time to break up a vicious fight amongst Major Ballantyne, Mrs. Ballantyne, and Dr. Nairn, with the Major attacking Mrs. Ballantyne and Dr. Nairn defending her. The Major insists it’s not Alleyn’s affair, but Alleyn refuses to back down. He confronts the Major with the fact he sent the threatening notes to Miss Emily and tried to run her down with the trolley in an attempt to scare her off. Alleyn can also place the Major at the falls the morning of the murder, where he ran into Miss Cost. Bitter at being cast aside and wanting the Major to experience some of her pain, Alleyn deduces she told the Major his wife was having an affair. The Major reluctantly admits most of that is true, but still swears he didn’t kill Miss Cost.
Surprisingly enough, Alleyn agrees with him. Miss Cost wasn’t killed by the Major; rather it was “the man she was in love with… obsessed with… the man she followed, spied on” and “grew to hate because she watched him commit adultery with another woman”. She had all the proof of his misdeeds – times, dates, photos – and was so determined to ruin this man, the Green Lady’s lover, that she posted everything to… the General Medical Counsel. Looking rather guilty, Dr. Nairn tries to claim he couldn’t have killed Miss Cost since he wasn’t back on the mainland until 8:00 AM, the time of her death. But Troy has the final key: she was painting a watercolour at the quayside and keeping track of its drying time when she saw the doctor arrive at 8:30 AM, reflected in the windshield of a nearby van – so he actually had an unaccounted-for half-hour in which to commit the murder. Realizing the jig’s up, Dr. Nairn quickly grabs Major Ballantyne’s discarded revolver and makes a run for it.
This Normally Doesn’t Happen…
Unfortunately for the doctor, he discovers he can’t go anywhere without taking a minute or two to untie a boat first. That gives Alleyn and Fox time to catch up, and Alleyn tries to persuade Nairn to drop the gun. “Come along now, Doctor,” says Alleyn, with perfect reasonableness, “Don’t make it worse than it already is.” Nairn, who’s more than slightly desperate by now, warns Alleyn not to come any closer, nervously waving the gun at Alleyn, then Fox, then Alleyn again. Alleyn continues to approach, slowly walking forward with one hand out, calling Nairn’s bluff (which actually worked with the cleaver-wielding maniac in “Hand In Glove“, so no wonder he thought he’d try it again). Unable to take the pressure, Nairn suddenly shoots Alleyn in the arm. Alleyn drops to the ground, rolling around in pain; Troy, who’s followed the action outside, screams “Rory!!” and rushes over to help, stripping off Alleyn’s tie and opening his collar (uhmm… she does realize he’s shot in the arm, right? Any excuse, Troy). Realizing what he’s done and that he has no hope of escape, Nairn apologizes to Margaret before taking his own life. She keens over his body while the Major looks on, perhaps considering that Nairn was able to do what he couldn’t. Hmm… I also think this is the first time Alleyn’s been shot in the line of duty.
Seeing Miss Emily Off
The next day, Alleyn (in a lovely casual teal sweater with a white straw fedora and a rakish-looking sling on his arm) and Troy see Miss Emily off at the quay. “You know, Roderick, I’m not convinced I should’ve come here at all,” muses Miss Emily, showing remarkable obliviousness and a lack of self-preservation. She adds, “I think perhaps I should’ve done it all through my solicitors. What do you think?” Ever the diplomat, Alleyn doesn’t answer. He and Troy somehow resist pushing Miss Emily off the jetty at that point, too, although I don’t know how. She then tries to entice Alleyn to accompany her back to London but he demurs, saying he still has
Troy to snog a report to write and has been asked to stay by Superintendent Campbell. Miss Emily seems to accept that, giving Alleyn a knowing wink as she leaves.
A Proposal and an Acceptance
Later, Troy and Alleyn row their way across the lake in a rowboat – slowly, because he’s got one hand to her two. “Did the Superintendent really ask you to stay?” she asks, and he replies offhandedly, “Did I say ‘Superintendent’? Can’t think what came over me. Must have been someone else I meant.” “Ah,” replies Troy. She comments that she’d like to stay on in Portacarrick (maybe she wants to paint the Highland cattle), although she doesn’t expect Alleyn to; she “doesn’t expect [him] to do anything”. “I know you don’t,” answers Alleyn, “I think that’s one of the many reasons I…” He trails off then says suddenly, “Will you marry me?” She kisses him by way of acceptance, which seems to be all he needs – and hey, no one can bother them when they’re way out in the middle of a Scottish lake. Aaaww, a happy ending!
A Scottish Mystery Solved
This episode was a lot of fun. The quack cure storyline was interesting, as was Miss Emily’s determination to put a stop to it, along with Miss Cost’s equal determination to keep it going. I also wondered if some of Alleyn’s protectiveness towards Miss Emily might stem from his earlier inability to protect his old friend Bunchie under similar circumstances. Alleyn’s inability to see past his concern (and prejudged conclusion) did lead him the wrong way temporarily, although Miss Cost’s diary eventually put him right. If there was anything I didn’t like about the episode, it’s that Ngaio Marsh used stereotypical sex-mad spinsters as villains on more than one occasion, and they’ve never been very good characters. They just seem to lack nuance.
However, I did like the portrayal of Alleyn’s working relationship with Fox and Bailey. His relief when they finally show up at Portacarrick is palpable, and it’s notable that he delegates one of his most difficult tasks – confining Miss Emily to her room – to Fox, who he knows will get it done without falling for her “emotional blackmail”. I also liked Fox’s dry humour as they’re looking over Miss Cost’s prurient photos while Bailey smirks in the background, and the way Fox patiently waited for his guv to get his mind off Troy and back onto the case at hand in the store.
The production values were amazing, as usual. I have no idea where that spring was, but the location was gorgeous (I assume they filmed in Scotland). Loved the hotel, the buildings, set decorations, cars, and all the Highland scenery, and even the ubiquitous Highland cattle. And I’m very envious of the Elgin Marbles scene. I also particularly enjoyed Mr. Malahide’s wardrobe; Alleyn’s tailored three-piece single- and double-breasted suits are always attractive, but it was a lot of fun to see him in more casual attire for a change, even if it was highly improbable he’d manage to keep that cream-coloured overcoat clean. I particularly liked his tweedy grey three-piece suit and lovely brown fedora, although the white straw one and his teal sweater were quite fetching as well.
Mr. Malahide as Inspector Alleyn
And of course Mr. Malahide’s portrayal of Alleyn was outstanding. He provided so many humorous touches: the running joke of Alleyn’s never-written report (he should say a Highland steer ate it), his animated discourse on the subject of dung beetles, and his frustration at Miss Emily’s motherly ability to push his buttons. We also got to see a more casual and passionate Alleyn; his relationship with Troy has progressed steadily through the series and they have wonderful chemistry together. He even seemed to enjoy having her around while he was working, whereas his book version would be frantic at the thought of Troy near a murder scene, going to great lengths to shield her. But Mr. Malahide gives Alleyn a depth and warmth that his book version lacks; I got the very real sense that Alleyn had been missing Troy badly while he was away in Egypt, was very much looking forward to their vacation, and extremely annoyed at having it derailed. The same for Troy, who has evidently overcome her fear of losing her independence by loving Alleyn. And Alleyn’s proposal scene was incredibly sweet; it’s just too bad he had to get shot first, but maybe he finds near-death experiences inspiring. 😉 There’s only one episode left of this series (*sniff sniff*!) but I so wish we could have gotten more, just so that we could have continued to see these characters, and their relationship, develop.