The Killings At Badger’s Drift by Caroline Graham

And cue the theramin!

91 episodes at ninety minutes (excluding adverts), ITV has provided us with almost six soild days of Midsomer Murders since the inception of the series back in 1996 – one almost forgets that the popular programme was based on a short series of novels – seven in total, the first five of which make up the first series of the programme, before the writers branched off on their own. You probably know the basic plot – someone gets murdered, lots of people look shifty, some more people get murdered and then Barnaby arrests the most famous actor in the cast who’s still alive – known in our house as the “Richard Briers Factor”, generated by an early Midsomer Murders episode where my good lady wife spent the entire story saying “surely it must be Richard Briers”.

But as part of New Author August (back to it after two requested reviews of old authors), I thought I’d go back to the origins of the series – the first book to feature Chief Inspector Barnaby.

The leads are basically what you see on the screen. After countless years of John Nettles, it’s impossible not to see him when you read about Barnaby, but he’s a pretty good fit. Apart from the book version being on pills for an unnamed condition, it’s effectively the same character. Sergeant Troy book version is rather grumpier and stupider than the TV version that I remember – it might have been nice if he’d actually helped the plot rather than just grumbling about life, the universe and everything, but it’s a reasonable contrast to Barnaby.

The plot? Well, an old lady, while hunting orchids, stumbles across two people… um… enjoying each other’s company in the woods and runs off, horrified. Later on, as she’s about to tell someone about it, there’s a knock on her door… and the next day, she’s dead of “natural causes”. Her friend and rival contacts Barnaby, who, smelling a rat, orders an autopsy to find that the woman was poisoned by hemlock, of all things. As he investigates the small village of Badger’s Drift, he uncovers all sorts of unpleasant things behind the veil of village life.

It’s a good read – it’s on the CWA top 100 mystery list, and it is a proper whodunnit. If I had a slight concern, it’s that given the author’s intent to show us that all sorts of unpleasantness lurks in an apparently pristine village, you might be able to take a guess at who the victim saw in the woods… I’ll say no more than that, but when I considered how bad something could be, the solution presented itself pretty quickly.

Having said that, it’s a very well-constructed mystery and an enjoyable read. Recommended – even if you can’t stand the television series – which I will come back to at some point, by the way.


  1. The Richard Briers Factor.. I often think the same when I’ve got absolutely no clue who the murderer could be… It has be be the most famous actor. And now I’ve got a name for it. Thanks!


  2. Puzzle Doctor – I’ll have to say I’m very glad you enjoyed this novel. It’s a series I like very much though so I’m biased. I think this one really is as you say, a decently-constructed plot and has some solid characters.


  3. This is a groundbreaking book akin to the subversive detective novels Minette Walter wrote once upon a time. I recommend this book to mystery readers all the time. Did you really figure out what the woman saw in the woods? Bravo, Steve. I should’ve known based on the theatrical clues Graham gives the reader. Back in my college days decades ago I was a British Lit and Drama Performance major in college and know very well that one play alluded to oh so often, but it never dawned on me to link it to what happened in the woods. This book has one of those “Wow!”
    solutions for me.

    I’m not so keen on any of her other books or the bulk of the series. Some of the original episodes in the first three seasons are rather good, but for me it’s hit and miss. I stopped watching after season three. John Nettles seemed to me to get very tired of the whole thing and looked like he was walking through his role most of the time. Robbed the series of its spark, I think.


    • In terms of solving it, the basic ickyness behind the general village life led me to think – how can the murderer be worse than this? So when I guessed (and it was a guess) the nature of the event in the woods, the rest fell into place.

      I’ll be giving another in the series a go soon – possibly the last one as it was written after the series began. As for my opinions on the TV series, stay tuned.


  4. Really enjoyed the review Steve, thanks. not being much of a fan of the show I’ve tended to avoid the books, but you can now consider me properly intrigued about this book at least – ta very much!


    • John (above) claims that this is by far the best in the series – I’ve read, a long time ago, one other, Written In Blood, which I recall as being perfectly fine, but not catchy enough to keep me reading the series. I’ll get my hands on another one soon…


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