Jonathan Creek: Mother Redcap

Episode Details

Originally broadcast February 28, 1998

Season Two, Episode Six
Preceded by The Problems at Gallows Gate (Episodes Four and Five)
Followed by Black Canary (TV Movie)

Written by David Renwick
Directed by Keith Washington

Key Guest Cast

Brian Murphy is best remembered by this writer as George from the seventies sitcoms Man About the House and its spinoff, George and Mildred. While he has had a long career, this is one of his few crime credits.

This is one of Nicola Walker’s earlier TV performances. She had a long-running role on the BBC spy drama Spooks (MI-5 in the US) and, more recently, appeared as a lead in Unforgotten. She also gave a standout guest performance in an episode in the first season of Luther.

The Verdict

This story is excellently paced, doing a good job of balancing a cold case and a case in the present day. A strong ending to this second season.


My Thoughts

A judge involved in the sentencing of a gang of Chinese criminals is given police protection when a threat is made that he will be dead by the morning. The windows are barred and police are placed throughout the home and on the grounds to offer protection. The bedroom door, the only entrance to the room, is under observation from a pair of police officers at all times throughout the night.

At 6am a crash is heard from inside the bedroom and the police run inside. The judge is lying on the floor dead with a small wound in his chest which is covered in blood. As the doctor confirms the murder can only have occured moments earlier yet there is no sign of a weapon or a killer anywhere inside the room or on the grounds. The only thing that is found is a torn piece of fingernail.

Meanwhile Maddy is approached by an Estate Agent who asks her to collaborate with him in an investigation into a series of mysterious deaths that took place in a bedroom above a London hostelry, The Mother Redcap, in the 1940s. Seven men died after looking out of a window, each apparently being scared to death by what they saw. The pub has been on the market for decades but its reputation has made it impossible to find a buyer.

These two strange cases will inevitably overlap – the question is how and why.

The first thing to say about Mother Redcap is that it represents a quick return to form for the show after the messy two-part story that preceded it. This is noticeably tighter and much more focused on developing its core puzzle, with remarkably little padding. While I do have a couple of issues with a few details of the plot, I think this matches the quality of the first three episodes in the season very well and were it placed on the other side of The Problems at Gallows Gate I would clearly be talking about a run of four excellent stories.

Given that today’s Hallowe’en, let’s start by discussing the rather spooky events at the Mother Redcap pub. This represents a new sort of case for the show – the cold case – and it is introduced pretty effectively. There is a strong sense of atmosphere both in the recounting of what happened and in the subsequent visits to the derelict building, helped by some strong low-light cinematography. While I would suggest that this plotline skirts the edge of being fair play based on a piece of information being provided only a few moments before the solution, the viewer certainly is given enough to work out the general idea of what may have been done and the motive, even if the exact method or mechanism used can only be an educated guess.

While the episode in general is less comedic than any of the others in the season, this story thread is the source for the most overtly comedic aspects of the plot. Namely Maddy’s uncomfortable interactions with her estate agent source who she fails to listen closely to when he tells her he is a nudist. I have complained about several of the comedic subplots in this season but this one, while not exactly hilarious, at least feels in balance with the other elements of the story and nicely parallels Jonathan’s own disappointing interactions with a possible romantic interest later in the episode.

As for the main mystery, I think the episode is once again very effective in setting out the constraints in which the crime took place. This is done very economically in the opening with a montage that demonstrates that it should be impossible for someone to get in and out of that room undetected, particularly with the judge’s wife sleeping somewhat restlessly next to him. Even though I remembered much of the solution, I still found the puzzle to be compelling on repeat viewing with several points of interest for Jonathan to consider when he is pulled into the case.

In most respects I find the solution to this to be quite satisfying. The few issues I have all relate to small, spoilery points and none were significant enough to seriously impact my enjoyment of the story.

ROT-13: Gurer ner frireny nfcrpgf bs gur cybg gung vaibyir yhpx – obgu tbbq naq onq (qrcraqvat ba jurgure lbh ner Wbanguna be bhe xvyyre). Sbe vafgnapr, gur qebccvat bs gur svatreanvy vf rabezbhfyl hayhpxl sbe gur xvyyre naq vf gur bayl yvax Wbanguna unf orgjrra gur gjb ybpngvbaf. Fvzvyneyl, gur xvyyre unf n fgebxr bs yhpx va svaqvat bar bs gur srj crbcyr jub pna rkcynva gur xvyyvat zrgubq hfrq nyy gubfr lrnef ntb gubhtu V fhccbfr gung vf nppbhagrq sbe va gurve univat orra vaibyirq onpx gura.

With the exception of these small issues, I found Mother Redcap to be another strong entry in what I still regard as the show’s best season. I think it is very atmospheric, close to perfectly paced, features a strong secondary mystery and it does a fine job of integrating the comedic subplot into the main storyline so that they complement each other.

Both of the cases are clever and explained quite effectively. Indeed – I think I appreciate how well constructed this story is all the more on repeat viewing as I noticed some of the small details (ROT-13: Gur jnl bhe xvyyre vf njner bs gur gvzr gung gur nynez jvyy tb bss naq gvzrf gurve npgvbaf gb or ba gur fprar juvyr qrynlvat gur bgure cbyvpr gb znxr fher ab bar bofreirf gur fgnoovat).

6 thoughts on “Jonathan Creek: Mother Redcap

  1. This is one of the episodes I recollect the least of. I know the main culprit and just about how the impossible situation was created, but most of the rest of the episode escapes me. Therefore, I never really look upon it as one of the classic episodes, though I suppose it’s not a letdown either.

    So I appreciate you pointing out its strengths – I will look forward to it a bit more the next time I go through the Jonathan Creek series.

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    1. As much as I enjoyed revisiting this, I can’t really disagree with the idea that it doesn’t stand out as you might expect. Perhaps that is because its structure makes the story a little more complex to summarize than some of the others in the season where there isn’t one single idea that underpins everything – or rather, that idea is hidden until near the end. I hope you do enjoy it when you next revisit it – I’d certainly be interested to read your thoughts!

      On Sat, Oct 31, 2020 at 12:22 PM Mysteries Ahoy! wrote:

      >

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  2. I’ve always felt divided about this episode. I like the historical mystery, but the locked room murder borrowed a little too freely from a well-known story. It’s not even copying/updating the locked room-trick that’s the problem. Gur gevpx jnf yvsgrq sebz Mnatjvyy’f Gur Ovt Obj Zlfgrel va juvpu na ryqreyl, ergverq cbyvprzna hfrq vg gb pbzzvg zheqre naq urer vg jnf n lbhat cbyvprjbzna ba qhgl. A clumsy tribute or Renwick thinking nobody would notice? Either way, it took some shine of the episode for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can understand feeling that way. I haven’t read the book you refer to (I know, I know!) but have encountered a core idea several times in novels. It has never been a favorite element of a locked room for me yet here I think because of the cold case aspect I find myself overlooking it.
      I will have to read the book you mention soon though!

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  3. The modern day mystery works on a similar principle to a fairly recent locked room puzzle that I won’t refer to, even in ROT-13, because I can’t remember if you’ve read it. I grabbed onto the idea when the police burst into the room and then promptly let it go. Oddly, though, I pretty much had the mechanism for the historical mystery worked out from the start, even if the motivations were unclear. A vast improvement on the previoustwo-parter, but there are better episodes to come!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting – I was in my early teens when I first saw this so the explanation for the historical mystery was probably above me then.
      I have seen this same idea used in a few books and it is never a favorite of mine. Here though it doesn’t bother me quite so much, in part because of that historical mystery adding further elements. But yes, the show does have some bigger gems to offer us still…

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