Starring: Ola Rapace, Tuva Novotny, Linus Wahlgren
No Nordic gloom here. Crimes of Passion – a set of six feature-length cases based on a series of books by Maria Lang, postwar pioneer of the Swedish detective novel – plunges you into a picture postcard version of the ’50s with a Scandi twist. The first episode establishes the mood and introduces the principle characters. It’s a tale of bed-hopping among the intelligensia as writers, artists and academics gather for a Midsummer’s party on a small island – a bit like the setting for a Bergman film, only everyone has a lot more fun. At least until the murders start.
Among the guests are Puck (Tuva Novotny), a trim, neat young literature lecturer, and Einar (Linus Wahlgren), the laid back blond guy she fancies. When one of the party winds up dead, Einar calls in his old friend Christer Wijk (Ola Rapace), head of the Stockholm murder squad. After the boat that is their only means of transport goes missing, Christer finds himself stuck on the island with a whole bunch of suspects and not so much as a change of underwear. Luckily, Puck – who happens to be writing a thesis on fictional murderers – is only too eager to do some of his work for him, snooping around like a bloodhound in Capri pants. Not that Christer needs any help really – old family skeletons come flying out of the closet at his very approach, and usually he only has to accuse a culprit for him to crumple and pour out a complete confession.
The same trio reconvene for the subsequent cases, with Puck and Christer doing the sleuthing and sifting through alibis and Einar – now married to Puck – stuck with the less glamorous role of supplying the occasional piece of background info and grumbling about how their holidays keep on getting ruined. He has a point, because it seems like they can’t go anywhere without someone kicking the bucket. This premise quickly becomes a bit of a stretch, and you might well snort with amusement when Puck starts stopping people in the street to interrogate them, or when she and Einar take a vacation and a corpse happens to pop up on their front lawn.
The show’s creators are clearly aware of the problem, because the fourth episode sees the corpse-magnet taking to bed with a cold, leaving Christer to manage more or less by himself. But she’s back to her old tricks in the fifth episode, working as a secretary to a Nobel Prize winning author, who promptly keels over after eating a fruit salad laced with strychnine. By this stage, Puck is becoming a positive jinx to all around her, and if you can’t handle this web of coincidence, then Crimes of Passion probably isn’t for you. But most viewers will be inclined to go with it and cut the series some slack, simply because it’s so charming and lovely to look at.
Although actually it’s more than that. You might baulk at this or that plot device, but each episode is spot-on in its creation of a distinct and memorable ambience – the island of the first episode, which turns from a place of leisure and hedonistic pursuits to one of isolation and imprisonment; the chilly, tomblike author’s house in the fifth episode; and the grand estate of the fourth episode, with its seances and rumours of a haunting, its beautiful rose beds and not so beautiful people.
Puck herself, pert and tomboyish and sporting a range of pretty pastel cardies, is a very relatable heroine (even if, when a suspect does finally retaliate and clobber her with a candlestick, you do rather think she’s had it coming). Although she’s steadfastly married to the handsome, open-hearted Einar, she has a little something going on with the aloof, cynical and hard to read Christer, and their investigations are almost like a sublimated flirtation. (Perhaps that’s why the show is called Crimes of Passion. It’s hard to account for the choice of title otherwise, because, Scandinavian phlegm being what it is, most of the murders are more like crimes of peevishness.)
Tuva Novotny’s winning turn is backed up by some gorgeous set-dressing and location cinematography. The fictional town of Skoga, where several of the cases are set, makes Midsomer Worthy look like a sink estate, and costume designer Ingrid Sjogren supplies delicious period glad rags for everyone to parade around in. And while the ladies get to waft about in floral prints, a handsome vintage Plymouth Savoy is pressed into service to take Christer from case to case in style. For those who prefer detective stories of a cosy variety and are prepared to swallow some of the show’s more glaring contrivances, Crimes of Passion is a delight, with strong performances from a good-looking cast and luxe production values. One to stack on the shelf next to Marple and Inspector de Luca.