Contemporary Macabre: Jonathan Creek, Daemons’ Roost

After another hiatus, and 20 years since the first episode of Jonathan Creek aired on our screens we were treated to possibly the final Creek story ever, Daemon’s Roost. 

12291558-low_res-jonathan-creek

The plot and main impossibility centre around a horrific mansion house (Daemon’s Roost) which, according to legend, was once owned by Sir Jacob Surtees. A seemingly satanic powered individual, complete with hidden chamber, Surtees has the ability to apparently levitate his victims across the room (no strings attached) sending them from a cage and through the air into a fiery furnace.

150 years later the mansion, now decaying was bought by corny slasher horror film director Nathan Clore, specifically for all it’s macabre history. But this decision turned to tragedy as two of his step daughters and their mother die under strange circumstances. Alison, the only daughter left, now grown up, is summoned to Daemon’s Roost to learn the truth about what happened to the rest of her family. But before she arrives Clore has a debilitating stroke rendering him paralysed and unable to communicate.

We are told that Creek had assisted Alison’s husband Stephen Belkin 6 years previously with what has come to be known as ‘The Striped Unicorn Affair’. A nifty locked room murder where by Stephen’s first wife, who had been receiving death threats, is finally told she will die in her bedroom that night. Stephen indeed wakes to find her lying dead, her bedside glass of water having been poisoned besides the fact that Stephen’s glass and the brand new bottle of water contain no poison, and the doors and windows are all securely locked from the inside. Alison, knowing Creek had solved the case calls him in to work out the truth behind her mother and sisters tragic deaths.

But after Creek’s arrival at Daemon’s Roost events take a more tragic and sinister turn, as the legend of Sir Jacob Surtees satanic killings is reenacted. Alison having been knocked out finds herself in the rumoured underground dungeon and is forced to watch Stephen levitated across the room and into the fire.

I felt the whole episode was something of a return to form for Renwick. The solution to the satanic levitation murder was satisfying and fiendishly simple, and the neat solution to the ‘Striped Unicorn Affair’, it’s subsequent subversion, and then it’s link to the motive and solution for the death at Daemon’s Roost lifts those plotting elements from good to brilliant. It’s this kind of thing that shows that Renwick has still got the flair to weave a complex mystery that has always made Creek so popular.

What I like about this episode, and with much of the Creek series as a whole is Renwick’s mixing of time periods in his impossible situations. Much of the problems over the Creek series blend both contemporary settings alongside the historic macabre. Objects like the thrice stolen 90’s answer phone tape in The Problem at Gallows Gate (1998), the clunky PC monitors of episodes like The House of Monkeys (1997) and the sharp glass shelf and modern book titles of the ‘Striped Unicorn Affair’ embed the mysteries in the moment, making them ‘of the time’. These writing tools serve to charge and activate the mundane and the everyday with mystery and horror. This is one of the great powers of the locked room mystery genre. Where simple locked rooms become sinister dark cages, glasses of water become fierce and sharp and something so simple as why a book would be too far forward on a shelf is imbued with twisted and cryptic meaning.

answer-machine
The Problem at Gallow’s Gate – Pure 90’s

These deeply domestic environments coupled with decaying haunted settings has been a Renwick tool of old. As with the moody Satan’s Chimney (2001), The Grinning Man (2009) and the series classic The Black Canary (1998). This coupling has the effect of butting up the contemporary alongside ghostly British histories in a way I have always admired.

But there were some holes and difficulties in Daemons Roost, mostly in terms of plotting and motivation. The no-consequence death of the returning ‘House of Monkeys’ killer was hard to swallow and was a very ‘convenient’ plot device. The more ‘phoney’ wordplay throughout the episode was a stretch, and there seemed to be a lot of padded out extra twists and turns that, although tied together by Renwick, could have been left behind. However with 32 episodes under his belt, it’s amazing that Renwick can pull ideas and solutions out of the bag.

In conclusion I felt this was a satisfying return to form for Renwick and Creek, with a few bumps along the way. And if this turns out to be the final episode, and Creek’s last bow, then it is a fitting ending to the whole 20 years of impossible mysteries. It makes me wonder if anything might ever take it’s place?

 

Advertisements