Steven Mullan, a former religious maniac who served time for running atheist writer Tom Rattenbury off the road, crippling Tom's daughter Jessica in the process, is murdered. Or rather his flatmate, who swapped identities with him to escape the wrath of his lover's husband, is. Then the real Steven Mullan is killed and Tom commits suicide, claiming he killed both lads. But Tom had an alibi and Jessica and Steven were closer than anybody guessed. Who has engineered the cover-up? Written by
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Lewis and Hathaway Scrutinize the Forest to Ponder an Intricate Web of Secrecy
This time around, Chief Superintendent Innocent (Rebecca Front) attempts to figure Detective Inspector Robert Lewis (Kevin Whately) and Detective Sergeant James Hathaway's (Laurence Fox) reasoning behind continuing the murder investigation once a dying suspect confesses to two homicides, while Doctor Laura Hobson (Clare Holman) conducts autopsies in a rather full examination room.
In the back-story, Steven Mullan (Danny Midwinter) has spent three years in prison, after crippling a teenage Jessica Rattenbury (Ophelia Lovibond) in a vehicular accident. Now wheelchair-bound, the once aspiring ballerina spends her time on her parents' Oxford estate except to appear at social function or to participate in Saint Margaret's swimming club.
Upon his release, Steven Mullan becomes the roommate of Alex Hadley (Dougal Irvine), who has been seeing Madeleine Cotton (Kellie Shirley) behind her husband's back, as Marc Cotton (Tim Treloar) operates a solarium tanning salon and, along with Madeleine, employs Steven Mullan, who also drives a truck for the city's landscaping department (which means that he's probably had his driver's license reinstated).
As a result, Alex suggests to Steven that they switch identities in order to protect Madeleine from Marc's fierce temper, and also so that Steven may start over with a clean slate.
Jessica Rattenbury's family, meanwhile, consists of her father, Tom Rattenbury (Julian Wadham), a "celebrity atheist" and son of a parish priest, who carries his Saint Christopher's medal while traveling, and seeks forgiveness and redemption; Cecile Rattenbury (Jenny Seagrove), the stern mother, who has little patience with Jessica's slacking from her therapeutic exercises; Daniel Rattenbury (Ben Aldridge), the loving but distant brother, who has recently become engaged to Hope Ransome (Zoe Boyle), who has also been involved with Manfred Canter (Michael Simkins), an Oxford Instructor in Italian Art and Renaissance, who has been an old college friend of Tom, and who has also had a past with Cecile.
The press continuously hounds Hope and Manfred to try to get the goods on them, which does not sit well with Daniel, who suspects that the gossips may be correct.
Frances Wheeler (Susan Tracy), art gallery curator, has in her collection a long horizontal painting of a forest, illustrating many figures among its trees, entitled "Vanishing Point," replicas of which are available in postcard form, one of which someone has sent unsigned to a victim.
Fiona McKendrick (Catherine Walker) has been working with the Oxford Police Department for three years and now decides to leave the force, she inviting her comrades Robert and James to her going away party, but while she and Robert get on well, she and James experience tension, which Robert maintains stems from James' unrequited romantic notions toward Fiona.
While everyone's busy socializing one Wednesday evening, a body is discovered in an Oxford apartment, an apparent victim who surprises a burglar. But Doctor Laura Hobson's autopsy report shows that the victim has been slain by drowning.
Detective Inspector Robert Lewis and Detective Sergeant James Hathaway make the rounds, questioning the Rattenburys and the Cottons and everyone in their circles, leading to an Oxford University debate forum, starring Tom Rattenbury and Manfred Canter, and a reception, at which Daniel Rattenbury douses Manfred Canter with a drink to protect the honor of Hope Ransome, whom Robert Lewis once again rescues, after rescuing her from a flock of reporters and photographers downtown earlier.
Another social event to follow marks the occasion of the 21st birthday celebration of Jessica Rattenbury, during which she wheels herself into a maze of evergreen shrubbery, where the second body is discovered, the victim of a stabbing. (The emotional stability of Jessica lies in question as to why she would subject herself to potential danger.)
But soon, a third fatality occurs as the result of an automobile's colliding with a truck near the location of Jessica's accident, the victim discovered with a note confessing to the other crimes. (So now, the Detective team must decide whether this action constitutes an accident, a suicide or a murder because they do not quite lap up the notion that this is the one whodunit.)
Well, Detective Inspector Robert Lewis and Detective Sergeant James Hathaway decide to continue to investigate the matters more thoroughly, as three females plan to exodus Oxford once and for all, while Lewis and Hathaway suspect that matters aren't as clear-cut as they may appear, and as James Hathaway scurries to Saint Margaret's swimming club by night to attempt to prevent a fourth fatality, by kicking in the glass door pane, and thrusting himself within.
The cast is rounded out by Simon Shackleton as Canter's Lawyer, Alan Bond-Ballard as Reporter, and Simon John Wilson as Policeman.
(Extra points for quality acting by several principles, including the regulars, plus haunting performances by Jenny Seagrove, Julian Wadham, Michael Simkins and Ben Aldridge.)
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