Death in Paradise review: Not much more than a lavish brochure for the local tourist boards

As a standard police procedural drama, it follows the usual pattern of murderous set up, introduction of suspects, discovery of clues and eventual arrest

Sean O'Grady
Tuesday 05 January 2021 10:51 GMT
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Ralf Little in Death in Paradise
Ralf Little in Death in Paradise (BBC / Red Planet / Denis Guyenon)

Now in its tenth season, Death in Paradise has a lot going for it. As we sit in our dank, gloomy, multi-tiered lockdown, at least we can derive some vicarious pleasure from the tropical sunshine and vibrant bougainvillea on the fictional island of Saint Marie. This little paradise in the eastern Caribbean, a British colonial outpost with a rich historical French heritage, has an abnormally high homicide rate, and correspondingly expensive production values. As the camera and the characters linger across the lush scenery, you can almost taste the rum cocktails and crunch the shrimp accras. That sort of thing.

Yet it doesn’t really deliver on its promise, leaving it as not much more than a lavish brochure for the local tourist boards. As a standard police procedural drama, it follows the usual pattern of murderous set up, introduction of suspects, discovery of clues and eventual arrest. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but because the viewer has so little chance to get to know the victim, they instead need to be engaged by the detectives and the various possible murderers.

But we don’t engage. This episode centres on the death of a young TV journalist (Eleanor Fanyinka), who was about to break some sort of scandal, which you’ll agree is not exactly a novel set-up. She is briefly glimpsed, mostly face down on a pool. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing – well, nearly an hour of it – it turns out that she was done in by the local star TV presenter, Garfield Tourne (Patrick Robinson), in cahoots with his wannabe telly personality daughter Helene Tourne (Shalisha James-Davis). The old sod was a serial sex pest, and the reporter, who’d also been harassed, was about to tell the truth about him.

Now Robinson is a pretty decent actor and he makes the most of his smooth, vain character, so it isn’t his fault that we don’t really engage with him. It’s fairly obvious early on (to me at any rate) that a video trick will have something to do with providing a false alibi for the Tournes, and so it proves. He and his daughter were supposedly on live TV at the time of the murder, you see. Yet I can recall a very similar plot device in an edition of Columbo in about 1976, when such technology was very new. I also recall, with Columbo, the way that even though you knew that when Vincent Price, Donald Pleasence or – gloriously – Johnny Cash appeared, it was them what dunnit, the chess games between them and Peter Falk’s Columbo would still be enthralling.

But down on St Marie, there isn’t much tension, because the storyline is so ropey. Surely the young reporter wouldn’t try to break her story on the very tiny TV channel where the sex pest is effectively the boss? Nor is it likely that his daughter would connive in that pre-meditated way to assist and then cover up a murder. It’s just not convincing stuff, and the whole unsatisfactory plot blows away like a beach hut in a hurricane as soon as the viewer gives it the slightest thought.

The lead is also weak. Instead of an eccentric but still vaguely credible cop (Columbo, Morse, Miss Marple), we get Ralf Little as DI Neville Parker playing the idiot Englishman abroad, and the rest of the St Marie police squad (Don Warrington, Tobi Bakare, Josephine Jobert) running through every Caribbean cliche in the Rough Guide to Fictional West Indian Territories.

Never mind Columbo for a benchmark, though, there was a children’s TV stop-motion animation series a few years ago called Rastamouse, also set in the West Indies. Rastamouse and his reggae band, Da Easy Crew, solved crime mysteries for the president of Mouseland, their aim being to “make a bad ting good”. It was a lot more charming and involving than this show. Someone, possibly Rastamouse himself if he’s not busy, needs to make Death in Paradise good.

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