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Baptiste review: A thrillingly chewy start to The Missing spin-off

Tchéky Karyo returns as the crime-frighting codger Julien Baptiste

Ed Power
Sunday 17 February 2019 23:06 GMT
Tom Hollander as Edward on the hunt for his absent niece
Tom Hollander as Edward on the hunt for his absent niece (PA)

What better antidote to Brexit than a missing person thriller set in Amsterdam, featuring a wrinkly French detective, sundry Romanian gangsters and Tom Hollander as a hyperventilating Englishman who doesn’t quite understand what he’s getting himself into?

A sort of 21st-century updating of Agatha Christie’s Poirot, Tchéky Karyo’s crime-frighting codger Julien Baptiste was introduced in Harry and Jack Williams’s brooding Euro-caper The Missing. Now he is promoted to his own six-part drama Baptise (BBC1). On the evidence of episode one, the Williams siblings have once again cracked the code with a deftly spun procedural constructed around Karyo’s winningly imperturbable turn as the eponymous sleuth.

A young sex worker (Anna Prochniak) has vanished from Amsterdam’s red light district and only her panic-attack prone uncle Edward Stratton (Hollander) seems to care. Enter the redoubtable Baptiste. The gallic gumshoe has recovered from the brain tumour afflicting him through series two of The Missing – the operation was successful – and has temporarily relocated to the Netherlands, where his daughter has had a baby.

As knocking about the house helping his wife (Anastasia Hille) prepare dinner isn’t the best use of his talents, he’s off to catch up with an old flame – who, quelle coincidence, happens to be the local chief of police. Soon he has been co-opted into the search for the vanished Natalie Rose, puffy, red-faced Stratton at his side.

The trail leads to the dingiest recesses of Amsterdam’s sex industry, though unlike some of the Williams brothers’ previous efforts, Baptiste isn’t interested in impressing you with his cleverness and the mystery is untangled with agreeable briskness. Because every modern crime show demands it there’s also an intersecting subplot, about murderous gangsters running a human trafficking ring. They’re quick out of the traps, bumping off a chatty pensioner in the very first scene and later taking an interest in Baptiste and his family.

The godfather presumed to be behind Natalie Rose’s disappearance is meanwhile revealed to have become a godmother (Talisa Garcia). This Baptiste deduces from her passion for the films of Rita Hayworth. How he adds two and two and gets “sex change” doesn’t, in all honesty, make any sort of sense. Yet the slow-burning Karyo sells you on the logic and the Holmes-ian satisfaction he takes in explaining it (for all his understatement, Baptiste isn’t above showing off).

Given that there are another five hours to unspool, it’s far too soon for a happy ending and the episode concludes with the reveal that the missing head of the aforementioned dead pensioner is gathering flies in Stratton’s basement. It’s a delicious twist, unveiled with a conjurer’s flourish. Yet again the Williams have woven a brilliantly tangled web, helped in no small part by Karyo’s quietly arresting central turn. As baptisms go, Baptiste’s first standalone adventure is off to a thrillingly chewy start.

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