Jonathan Creek: Ghost’s Forge (TV)
Originally broadcast 18 December 1999
Season 3, Episode 4
Preceded by The Omega Man
Followed by Miracle in Crooked Lane
Written by David Renwick
Directed by Richard Holthouse
Normally I choose people from an episode who have some sort of link to the mystery genre but how could I do that here when I have a chance to draw attention to a super, smashing, great cameo from northern comic Jim Bowen.
He had got his start on the TV show The Comedians and in the 80s began hosting the darts gameshow Bullseye which brought him to national, and my own, attention. My flatmate at University watched reruns constantly so he is about as familiar a face for me as you get.
The mystery plot is rather awkwardly structured and a little weak but the material around it is really entertaining, particularly the secondary mystery of how Maddy vanishes from inside an observed room.
Mimi Tranter, an old colleague of Maddy, is having an affair with a man who keeps muttering about a house named Ghosts Forge in his sleep. She learns that the last owner of the house, the reclusive author Ezra Carr, was found dead several years earlier. The police had suspected that he was killed during a burglary yet nothing of value seemed to have been stolen.
Mimi takes Jonathan and Maddy to look over the house, frustrating both with her repeated assertions that she knows exactly how he pulls off different tricks from the magic show. While they look over the house Maddy appears to disappear inside a room after climbing into it with a ladder. Jonathan acknowledges it as a very clever trick played on Mimi later on so how did Maddy pull it off?
Ghost’s Forge is another one of those episodes that I have seen several times but that I could not have described in any detail prior to rewatching it. That does not reflect on its quality so much as that it lacks an easily summarized problem and that the impossibility in the episode is not part of that main investigation but a gag played in a comedic subplot involving Maddy’s obnoxious friend Mimi.
What exactly are Jonathan and Maddy investigating? It’s all a bit vague. There’s the strange mutterings of Robin, the married man that Mimi is sleeping with, but that alone would not be much of a story. The strange death, which is presumably linked, adds more of a crime element to the tale but that too feels rather insubstantial and it would not be of much interest on its own either. And then there’s the question of Ezra Carr’s identity which is relatively simple and only a small point within the episode.
Pulling these together makes for a more substantial case but working each of these elements in also makes Jonathan and Maddy’s involvement feel quite contrived, basically hinging on Mimi being a terrible oversharer. A lot seems to be staked on the viewer quickly becoming engaged in the oddities, though not the impossibilities, that they find in that house enabling them to overlook how awkward the pair’s involvement in this story feels.
One of the ways I think you see the weakness in that central plot reflected is in the number of comedic subplots you see in this episode. You have the running gag of Mimi explaining how easy it is to solve Jonathan’s tricks (which is obnoxious enough to annoy him without becoming tiresome for the viewer), Maddy being mistaken for Robin’s mistress, a repetitive brass band, Adam Klaus’ inability to commit to a single woman and his attempts to smooze a critical reviewer. And then you have Maddy’s disappearance trick.
Typically I have bemoaned these sorts of subplots in previous episodes so I am happy to be able to say, quite enthusiastically, that I think all of them fundamentally work here and also help contribute to binding the episode’s mystery elements together. What makes that possible is the way these subplots often directly feed into each other, such as the link between Adam’s serial infidelity and the later interactions with the reviewer or Mimi’s annoying habit leading to Maddy constructing that trick to fool her.
I want to focus on that last one – the disappearing trick – as it is the episode’s impossibility and the thing I most clearly remembered about the episode though that memory kicked in only when I saw Maddy about to climb the very long ladder. In my opinion it is one of Maddy’s best moments in the series as it shows the growth in her ability to construct a puzzle as a result of her friendship with Jonathan.
The trick itself is simple but clever. Jonathan’s rating of the trick as a 6 out of 10 in itself is pretty fair but the way it is handled in the context of the episode should give it a few extra points. The viewer is unlikely to guess at how it is worked in its immediate aftermath, although they are given a pretty good view of Maddy climbing the ladder, the interior of the room and Jonathan rattling the handle of the stuck door from the corridor outside. Smartly the episode presents the basic facts and quickly distracts the viewer, only returning to the problem to explain it at the end.
Which I suppose will bring me back to that central mystery plot (or plots). Without grafting that disappearing puzzle onto that crime scene there simply isn’t enough here to make it feel like a Jonathan Creek case. The circumstances of the murder are certainly odd but they never feel remarkable. There is no sense that the police really missed anything obvious in the crime scene and were it not for the very specific way the case is introduced to Jonathan he would have no way to solve the puzzle at all or have any grounds to doubt the official verdict of what happened.
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I would also suggest that I do not know that Jonathan proves the links between each point in his explanation. It happens to be right and so it is accepted, but it really feels more like informed conjecture – in part because it relates to human choices rather than a mechanism or trick that was used. That’s not necessarily inappropriate but it does not reflect the type of solution I look for from this show and so it strikes me as a little underwhelming.
As I noted at the top of this review, though I had seen it several times I remembered very little about it. Having revisited it again I have no reason to think that will be any different the next time I return to it. It’s not terrible in the way that The Problem at Gallows Gate or The Curious Case of Mr. Spearfish were, but it just doesn’t deliver the sort of trickery and interest that I look for in the cases from this series. In spite of that though I still found it to be quite entertaining, in large part because of those comedic subplots, and I do think it is one of Maddy’s best episodes in the series (and with just two episodes left with the character, there isn’t much opportunity left to top this).