This was the penultimate episode of this series, which I doubt will be renewed, but it at least showed some variation upon the formula that we’ve been seeing, and in more than just throwing about some melodrama in the form of a serious threat to Puck.
Not that it strayed too far from the tried and trusted: there’s the lake motif, right at the start, as a young and heavily pregnant lady received a brown paper parcel consisting of a hardback novel, ‘Disa’, by Nobel-prize winning Andreas Hallman, which upsets her so much that she walks out into a rainy, gloomy, truly Scandinavian lake and drowns herself. There’s Eje Bure being shuffled off not merely into the background but into another country, playing Guest Lecturer in Denmark. And there’s the Library scene of cliche, where the murderer confesses once accused by Christer. Familiar touchstones.
However, the story at least makes an effort to find a new perspective. For one thing, Puck and Eje aren’t off somewhere celebrating something: he’s away to Copenhagen and she’s turning up at the remote and snowbound home of the same Andreas Hallman, who needs a slumming lecturer in literature (you’d forgotten what Puck did when she wasn’t running around after Christer, solving killings? shame on you) to replace his daughter Ylva, who appears to have sprained her wrist, no doubt deliberately. Puck’s so excited, she turns up wearing a skirt! At least until dead bodies start dropping everywhere, then it’s back to skinny trousers like a shot.
Hallman, we quickly see, is a tyrant to all his family: wife Bjorg, adult son and daughter Kore and Ylva, house hysician Dr Isander and even darling Puck (the beast!). Everyone except son Jon by his first marriage, and his wife and former nurse, Cecilia. Jon has congenital heart disease and is mollycoddled to within an inch of his coddle, although Puck, wandering around as always and completely unable to suppress her urge to look through other people’s doors, sees him being laid on the bed by a black-underwear-and-stockings clad Cecilia without his heart going boom on the spot.
Which doesn’t stop him expiring the following night, crawling around the landing in front of who else but Puck? (this woman has a nose for when someone’s about to snuff it) And his last word was ‘Murder’.
No, insists Dr Isander, scooping the deceased off to instant interment without post-mortem, you must have misheard: Jon loved his late mummy and longed to be reunited with her: he must have said ‘Mother’. Puck’s unnerved enough to phone Eje to chat and someone listening to the conversation is concerned enough to try to smother her to death with a pillow that night, a fate Puck escapes by pretending to snuff it, causing the naive would-be-murderer to leave before completing the job.
Not that Puck mentions someone’s tried to shuffle her off this mortal coil. She wants out (in her trousers) but Hallman won’t let her, she has a contract, don’t mention the pillow. It’s handy that Eje’s phoned Christer and Christer has promptly dropped all his Stockholm duties again and driven up country to snatch Puck out, nothing suspicious about that (anyway, we know Christer’s going to wind up taking Ylva off somewhere to give her a right good seeing too: she may be neither as old, brassy or busty as his usual shags, but there’s really no-one else about in the story with whom our doughty Head of Murder can gets his rocks off).
Without a legal leg to stand on, there’s nothing Christer can do about the late Jon, that is, until Professor Hallman pauses in the act of slagging off his wife’s cooking yet again to keel over dead with strychnine poisoning, thus opening the door for Christer to investigate. It’s another of those mysteries where it would be quicker to list those who didn’t have a motive to off the horrible Prof, except that this turns out to consist only of Cecilia and Puck.
So investigations proceed with their usual caution, whilst Christer, having nowhere to sleep thanks to a convention having take up every room in the hotel, ends up sharing with Puck: he gets the couch. Here the programme teases us, as Puck wakes to find Christer all over her and starts helping him get out of his vest toot-de-sweetie, only for her to wake up for real and find she was only dreaming and he’s very chivalrously snoring his head off on that uncomfortable looking couch.
Eventually Jon’s autopsy reveals all, via a red herring starring Kore, and Christer solves the case, arresting Doctor Isander for killing Halman out of love for the serial suicide risk Bjorg, and Jon by getting it wrong. It’s all very conventional, but it’s over ten minutes before the end of the film, which is where the series injects some pace for the first time: first Eje turns up, the press having insinuating that Christer’s been boffing Puck, then Christer has one of those Ellery Queen moments where he pulls another suspect out of his ass by discovering a brand new piece of evidence that changes everything. Because Puck’s at the house, typing up the manuscript, alone with the other suspect: Cecilia.
Cecilia, who is the sister of Ann-Louise, the young woman that Kore loved but Hallman had made pregnant, whose life he stole for ‘Disa’, who walked into the lake causing Cecilia to decide to exert vengeance. And, since Puck has worked it out, the house has got to be burned down with Puck in it, helpless in the face of one mother of a morphine overdose, plunged into her neck even as the dashing through the snow Eje and Christer arrive in the nick of time…
I’ve hammed the description up a bit because, when you analyse this objectively, it’s so easy to spoof in this manner. But this is a better episode that any since the first, and it would not be difficult to give it the praise it was due for being willing to inject both pace and a degree of tension into the series. Though Crimes of Passion cannot ultimately escape the degree of cliche with which it is invested, presumably from the original Maria Lang novels, whose prolificity suggest a certain formulaic approach, it is a cut above and I’ll certainly acknowledge that, whilst not being prepared to entertain too high hopes for next week’s finale.