Patrick Malahide vs Chief Inspector Wexford in Means of Evil

Patrick Malahide appeared in a 1991 episode of Ruth Rendell Mysteries entitled Means of Evil. A neat factoid is that George Baker, who played Wexford, has also played Chief Det. Insp. Alleyn in some Ngaio Marsh mysteries produced in New Zealand.

Spoilers ahead,  gallery below.


Malahide played Axel Kingman, a straight-edge vegetarian who runs a whole foods store named Harvest Home. It opened with his marriage to Hannah (Wendy Morgan). The wedding was unusual as it was catered by Axel’s ex-girlfriend, a cookery writer and fellow vegetarian, Corrine Last (Cheryl Campbell). Corrine seemed to take being passed over for a younger woman with extraordinary good will. However, her daughter Saffron was not as enthusiastic.

The wedding did not result in happily married bliss, though. During the reception, Hannah disappeared to her room feeling neglected and shown up by Corrine. Detective Inspector Burden (Christopher Ravenscroft) saw Axel storm away from Hannah, accusing her making it the worst day of his life. It should also be pointed out that Burden’s wife is a friend of Corrine’s and holds Axel in high regard.

After the Wedding

Things only get worse after the honeymoon. They fought over money and Hannah’s reliance on antidepressants. Then incidents occured which caused Hannah’s brother John (Gerard Horan ) to suspect Axel of trying to kill her. First, Hannah fell down an open cellar door in the dark. Then, at a little dinner get together, she became suddenly ill after eating some homemade mushroom soup prepared by Axel.

Finally, she fell from an open window to her death. It was up to the Wexford to determine if it was a suicide or a murder. Burden, who was growing ever resentful of his wife’s friendship with Corrine and defense of Axel, was convinced that Kingman was the killer. His beliefs were further compounded when it was revealed that Hannah was an alcoholic. Perhaps, the mushrooms, if combined with alcohol, could cause illness?

To make a long story very short, the answer is, sort of, yes. Hannah was murdered but not by Axel. Corrine, jealous of Axel’s and Hannah’s plans to have children devised a way to get rid of Hannah and make it appear as though Axel was the killer.

More About Axel

Axel is an unusual sort of character.  He is very ethical.  He believes in vegetarianism not just for the obvious health benefits but also for moral reasons.  He does not drink and will not sell alcohol in his shop nor have it in his home.  Hannah drank vodka and hid it from him.  It seems that everyone knew of Hannah’s drinking except Axel.

When describing his relationship with Hannah to Wexford, he said he thought he’d found someone like him, “a simple sort of person who doesn’t expect very much from life but has quite a capacity for contentment”.  So, he is quite a sympathetic character also.

Axel’s primary flaw in an inability to confront.  We first saw a hint of this when he stormed away from Hannah at the reception.  He told Corrine the reason he left her was because she had to control every aspect of his life.  It seemed to be a constant theme.

He is also a bit blind.  He was the one who did not know of Hannah’s drink problem.  I think he was also blind of Corrine’s daughter Saffron’s feelings for him.  She would massage his shoulders and flirt with him a bit, but he did not really seem to notice.  Either that or he chose to pretend he did not notice.  It was hard to tell.  But, in all good mysteries,  a lot of character issues are difficult to figure out at first.


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