the countdown

The 20 best episodes of Death in Paradise, ranked

For the past 13 years, the BBC show has been offering up generous servings of stabbings, poisonings and kidnappings on the island of sunny Saint Marie. Following the news of Ralf Little’s departure as DI Neville Parker, Ed Power looks back on the show’s greatest moments

Wednesday 27 March 2024 11:04 GMT
Soggy sleuth: Ralf Little, the latest lead detective in ‘Death in Paradise’
Soggy sleuth: Ralf Little, the latest lead detective in ‘Death in Paradise’ (BBC / Red Planet / Amelia Troubridge)

It’s been another killer season of Death in Paradise, the murderous, more-ish cosy crime drama set on the fictional and deeply deadly Caribbean island of Saint Marie. As the 13th season came to a close at the weekend, it also marked the end of Ralf Little’s tenure as DI Neville Parker.

With its generous servings of stabbings, poisonings and kidnappings since 2011, the show has become a ratings blockbuster for the BBC and recently reached a milestone 100 episodes. The broadcaster has even announced an Australia-set spinoff, Return to Paradise, to take place in Dolphin Cove, Queensland – arriving on the heels of an earlier off-shoot, Beyond Paradise, which followed Kris Marshall’s DI Humphrey Goodman back to the Devon Coast.

Its success is no mystery. Death in Paradise has gorgeous weather, eye-catching locations (filming takes place in Guadeloupe) and an ever-escalating body count. Who could resist? Grab your evidence kit and sun lotion, then, as we bring you a highly unofficial and completely unscientific countdown of the 20 best episodes ever.

20: The Impossible Murder (season six, episode three)

A romantic getaway for DI Goodman and on/off romantic interest Martha Lloyd (Sally Bretton) is interrupted by… murder! The brother of the hotel’s owner has been killed in his room. The victim’s laptop is untouched – but his watch and wallet are missing. Humphrey concludes the killer is in the vicinity, so the game is afoot. But with all the hotel guests accounted for, where could the culprit be hiding? A tense serving of Agatha Christie-esque detective work and a showcase for Marshall as sleuth extraordinaire.

19: Death of a Detective (season three, episode one)

Death in Paradise is often written off as a middle-of-the-road whodunit: the Coldplay of crime drama. But goodness, what courage it took to bump off the lead character – in effect, playing a game of switcheroo on the audience and turning the sleuth into the victim.

More disconcerting yet, DI Richard Poole (Ben Miller, simultaneously channelling Mr Bean and Humphrey Bogart) is killed at his university reunion – stabbed in the ticker with an ice-pick. Detective Camille Bordey (Sara Martins) – Richard’s foil and potential paramour – is devastated. But, oh look, here’s a new detective, Marshall’s Humphrey Goodman, to track down the murderer in a shocking and gripping episode.

18: A Dash of Sunshine (season two, episode six)

A holidaymaker is strangled in her villa. The husband is the obvious suspect – but he and Richard were former police colleagues who have had a falling out. Might the detective’s unhappy history with the suspect have clouded his judgement? And what about the suspiciously behaving owners of the villa? There are many moving parts in this winningly intricate episode.

17: The Blood Red Sea (season five, episode seven)

A 400-year-old silver coin stash is recovered from a sunken galleon – only for the leader of the salvage crew to turn up dead. He’s been stabbed in the chest, after eye-witnesses saw him arguing with a rival treasure hunter. But the suspect has an alibi, leaving Humphrey with a tricky puzzle to unravel.

16: Amongst Us (season one, episode eight)

The spirit of David Fincher’s Seven hangs over this gruesome instalment, which begins with the discovery of a woman murdered in bed, silver coins stuffed in her mouth. Awkwardly, she’s just enjoyed a night out with Officer Dwayne Myers (Danny John-Jules), whose police badge is retrieved from her room. Could the kindly detective be a killer? Look out for an extended cameo by Adrian Dunbar, playing – mother of god – a potential love interest for Camille’s mother, Catherine. But his character Aidan Miles is no cuddly Ted Hastings, as Richard eventually works out.

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A tanned Adrian Dunbar makes a cameo in ‘Death in Paradise’ (BBC)

15: A Deadly Curse (season two, episode four)

A double murder has rocked Saint Marie, and there are reports of weird goings-on in the jungle. Camille suspects the ancient folklore of the island may be crucial to unlocking the mystery – but, sensible Englishman that he is, Richard insists on sticking to the facts. The Richard-Camille double act drew many viewers to Death in Paradise in the first place, and their opposites-attract dynamic is at its strongest here.

14: Switcharoo (season nine, episode five)

Ralf Little makes his big entrance as DI Neville Parker as he is flown in to investigate the death of a young woman in a hotel. She is electrocuted, the door locked from the inside – everyone assumes suicide. Parker is expected to rubber-stamp these conclusions, but he believes there is more to the case than meets the eye. A great introduction to a character viewers would soon come to love.

13: Flames of Love (season five, episode eight)

A backpacker is found dead at a hotel, murder weapon in hand. Another Death in Paradise apparent suicide, surely? Perhaps not. Humphrey wonders if the victim’s boyfriend or the hostel’s manager might not be involved. His investigation is complicated when his old girlfriend Martha surfaces. It is a chance for Marshall to show his range extends beyond merely playing a mild-mannered detective who could do with a lie down in a quiet, dark room.

12: Fake or Fortune (season 10, episode six)

The murder of a concert pianist is occupying all of Neville’s time in the concluding half of a 10-year anniversary special. But the real twist is for the returning Camille, who has a flashback to Richard – yes, Ben Miller back for a cameo. For veteran viewers, it’s a moment to treasure. Richard rants about the French – goodness, it’s really him – and then comes close, but not too close, to expressing his feelings for Camille. “Feeling regret about things you never said, or did, it’s a waste of time,” he says. “All that matters is how we act in the moment.” Cue melting hearts everywhere.

11: Written in Murder (season seven, episode three)

Much like Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond, Ardal O’Hanlon’s DI Jack Mooney is the underrated Death in Paradise lead – overlooked by many but beloved by connoisseurs. There are lots of giggles as he and Dwayne are forced to share a shack – only for the inevitable dead body to kill the mood. “Dwayne better get those pants on; there’s been a murder,” says Mooney – sounding like Father Dougal in the tropics.

Ardal O’Hanlon as detective Jack Mooney (BBC/PA)

10: Unlike Father, Unlike Son (season four, episode eight)

We peek behind the curtain into Humphrey’s interior life when his barrister father, Martin (James Fox), visits the island. It turns out his domineering dad is to blame for his son’s lack of confidence. Oh, and there’s a murder, too. But the real killing occurs when his father sits Humphrey down for a heart-to-heart. “You’re living alone, in a shack, with a bloody lizard.” Oof – somebody call an ambulance!

9: An Unholy Death (season two, episode two)

There’s been a blaze at the Saint Marie convent, and a student nun has died. It looks like a tragic accident – she was smoking, her bedroom door locked. But why was she receiving threatening notes, and could it have something to do with a skeleton in the cupboard of Father John? Sounds like a case for grumpy DI Richard Poole.

8: Man Overboard, Part Two (season six, episode six)

DI Goodman swaps sunshades for brollies when an investigation into the death of a charter boat captain on his yacht leads back to London and a shadowy cabal of bankers. Back in Blighty, Humphrey decides to start over with Martha. In his place, DI Jack Mooney (Ardal O’Hanlon) flies to Saint Marie as a temporary replacement – another slick segue from one detective to another. Think of it as a Doctor Who regeneration without the wonky special effects.

7: Music of Murder (season one, episode seven)

Richard goes all Indiana Jones when we discover his dread of snakes. But his fear of leaving a case unsolved trumps his terror of limbless reptiles, and he is soon in hot pursuit of the killer of a lead singer at a band’s comeback show.

6: Ye Of Little Faith (season three, episode four)

Another hotel, another murder. A cabin crew worker is found poisoned at a hotel popular with airline staff. Humphrey and Camille learn that one of the suspects was having an affair with the dead woman. He’s the obvious suspect – unless it was his jealous partner, who happened to be 30,000 feet in the air at the time.

5: A Personal Murder (season five, episode four)

A chance for Danny John-Jules to shine as the likeable Officer Myers. It’s yet another apparent suicide on Saint Marie – a barber who served as a father figure to Myers has seemingly killed himself. But as Humphrey looks deeper, he draws a connection between the victim and the mutual friends he shared with Myers.

Danny John-Jules portrays Officer Myers, a fan favourite (BBC/Red Planet Pictures/Denis Gu)

4: Murder Begins at Home (season eight, episode eight)

Another showcase for Ardal O’Hanlon’s DI Mooney, who must investigate the death of a horse trekker whose body is dumped at the Saint Marie police station. It’s a far-fetched demise, but O’Hanlon’s warm, almost-but-never-quite-bumbling performance sells the episode. He comes within touching distance of his Father Dougal character from Father Ted, yet never goes over the line.

3: Arriving in Paradise (season one, episode one)

The one where it all started. Ben Miller is fantastic as the fish-out-of-water DI Richard Poole called on to solve the death of his Saint Marie police predecessor (Hugo Speer), found dead in a safe room. Though he spends most of his time grumbling about the heat, Richard puts it all together in the end – and we discover the murderer is chillingly close to home.

2: Sins of the Detective (season 12, episode seven)

Meaty two-parters are a Death in Paradise staple, and last year’s “Sins of the Detective” rates as one of the most knuckle-biting to date. DI Neville Parker is behind bars on suspicion of killing smarmy criminologist David Cartwright (Patrick Kennedy). We know Cartwright has bumped off poor Jack Dalton purely for the fun of it – but when his killer is, in turn, revealed, it is a twist for the ages and a sucker punch for poor, trusting Neville. His name has been cleared, his heart broken into a million pieces.

1: Predicting Murder (season one, episode three)

You’ll never look at a classroom skeleton the same way again. Wonderfully knotty and thrilling, this season one highlight begins with a school cleaner seeming to predict her death during a voodoo ceremony. “He’s killed before,” she says. “And he will silence me!”

Twenty-four hours later, her body is found in the science lab of the local comprehensive. But as Richard and Camille look further, they realise there is more to the case – that they are, in fact, investigating two cases.

They also discover the school’s smug headmaster has a skeleton in his closet and another in full public view. A superb 60 minutes of sleuthing, with a twist that holds together while seeming to come out of the blue.

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