Saturday Eurocrime: Crimes of Passion – Tragedy in a Country Churchyard

Happy ever after…

And so our little excursions into chocolate-box early Fifties Sweden come to an end with a Christmas episode, in which certain patterns of earlier episodes are broken in a manner intended to symbolise the end of a series that is highly unlikely to return.

It’s Christmas Eve, and in honour of the occasion, someone’s breaking into the Church to steal all the silver cups and plates. There’s also an attractive, blonde, buxom, slightly tarty, pretty much the archetype of the one Christer will get off with at the end, who’s cheating on her husband. And there’s Puck and Eje about, pretty much guaranteeing a body as soon as you can get Puck looking for one.

Why are the Bures on the scene in yet another remote and quiet Swedish village far from Stockholm? Because it’s Christmas. They’re staying at the Vicarage next to the Church, with Puck’s father, archaeologist Johannes Ekstadt, his brother Tord and his ten year old daughter Lotta. Lotta is a real Puck-in-miniature. Oh, and Tord is the Vicar, hence the gathering.

There’s actually a real simplicity to things this week: there’s only one murder, that of Arne, who owns the General Store. The slightly tarty blonde is Barbara, who comes to the Vicarage for help when she returns from some mysterious, presumably adulterous Christmas Eve assignation to find Arne missing and the ham burning. And of course it is Puck, with Lotta in tow, who finds Arne with his head bashed in with an axe.

Equally of course, Barbara the widow joins the Vicarage household, and the murder is investigated by the one cop in Sweden who turns up for all suspicious deaths, no matter how far out of Stockholm they may be. You can already see Eje’s head droop at the knowledge that he is going to see bugger all of the wife he loves (who has only gone out and written her own murder mystery novel) now that Christer’s in town.

Events unroll in the usual leisurely fashion. Secrets abound. Everybody, as usual, has something to hide and everybody, as usual, acts as if the fact of a murder and a Police Inspector investigating it is an horrific and unsupportable imposition on their right to keep their illicit, illegal or just squalid actions to themselves. Damnit, they’re not even rich enough to be acting with brazen belief that the Law doesn’t apply to them.

Though that’s not the excuse the motorcycle riding Communist teddy boy offers.

The more this series has gone on, the less the murders – and the convolutions they expose – have mattered. They’re just wallpaper, and this is no different. The Godless Communist boy turns out to have stolen the silver plate to impress Barbara the soon-to-be-widow, not to keep but as a joke: his punishment at the (tacit) hands of the Law is to become an usher in the Church. There’s a miserable cow of a strict Fifties mother who probably killed her husband by refusing to call an ambulance for his burst appendix until it was too late, who gets away with it providing she lets her blonde sixteen year old go motorbike riding with Commie boy. And the actual killer comes out of left field in a manner reminiscent of the current series of New Tricks.

There isn’t even a second murder until about fifteen minutes from the end, and even that keeps it in the family as widow Barbara follows Arne to the grave (literally: her body is found in Arne’s open grave. By Puck. With Lotta in tow). Since the only other fit bird in the show is the teenager Susannah, Christer has to do without for the season finale, standing all moody and smoking in the snow at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

But all that matters little against the main point of the story, namely Puck and Eje. The moment Christer’s on the scene, Puck is dogging his trail everywhere he moves. Christer and the case are all that’s in her head. You can practically feel Eje’s resignation. So he does the completely understandable and utterly foolish thing of being supportive to Barbara. He’s not out to shag her in any way, just spending time with a woman who notices his existence for once. Of course, Puck immediately starts to glow green with jealousy, convinced Barbara is the villain (just because she’s got some very sexy – for the Fifties – black underwear) and completely failing to see any link between her dear hubby’s uncharacteristic behaviour and the trail of drool she leaves in Christer’s wake every time he’s about.

It comes to a head in Barbara’s bedroom of all places, as the growing failure of perception leads to angry shouting, capped by Eje’s furious yell that there’s always a murder! This, at least, gets through to Puck, from which point she rapidly sees what they have been doing, and all’s well that ends well.

You can say that it’s a cheap cop-out, that it’s a very Fifties solution: no real thought-out conversation, the marriage preserved by tacit agreement and the quick application of sexual healing (TM the late Marvin Gaye). To which I would reply that this is a Fifties series, against the backdrop of an instinctive rush to preserve the marriage rather than destroy it, and that it is actually far less of a cliché in drama by now for the riven lovers NOT to commit adultery just because the possibility is there.

Apparently, Maria Lang, from whose works this series was adapted, wrote about forty crime novels, though I don’t know quite how many of those featured Puck, Eje and Christer. I’d bet there’s enough left over for another series of six, but the reception Crimes of Passion received in Sweden is pretty much a guarantee that this is the last we’ll see of Tuva Novotny, Linus Wahlgren and Ola Rapace. It’s been pleasant and undemanding, but I think I’d like to see something with either a bit more  steel or stupidity in it. There wasn’t enough of either in these stories.

There’ll be no more Saturday Eurocrime next week, as BBC4 goes Down Under for the next six weeks with the Australian series The Code. It’s right up to the minute as the third episode is only going out in Australia tomorrow. I’ll see what I’m doing and whether I feel like dropping in. But every week that passes must surely be bringing us closer to The Bridge 3. I can’t wait.

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