In this ongoing series, Patricia Routledge plays private detective Hetty Wainthropp, who “Mystery!” host Diana Rigg informs us is “a no-nonsense Manchester matron.” An unlikely and sometimes uneasy private eye, Hetty doesn’t delve into the dark side of human nature — no seedy spying on adulterous husbands for the prim Mrs. Wainthropp. Instead, Hetty takes on cases in which the mystery is not so much whodunit, but why. It’s appropriate that the first episode in this miniseries of six stand-alone stories has our motherly gumshoe going undercover at … a quilting club. Routledge carries this silly stuff off with a uniquely compelling combination of enthusiastic gumption and relaxed comic grace.
In the first episode, “All Stitched Up,” Hetty is called in by the police themselves, who have been able to identify the delinquent terrorizing a neighborhood, but have found that the neighbors themselves are too frightened to speak out. Hetty’s job is to plumb for gossip as she appliques. Along with her assistant Geoffrey (Dominic Monaghan), she befriends the locals, and manages to discover — or really just to notice — that one youngster has something he needs to get off his chest.
In the second episode, “Daughter of the Regiment,” Hetty is hired by Dawn Langley (Mel Martin) to find out why someone has been taking pictures of her about-to-be-married daughter. From the very start, Hetty can sense that there’s something Mrs. Langley is holding back, and our caring detective eventually feels obligated to go beyond her task and help heal some old wounds.
The stories themselves are pretty ridiculous, verging on the campy without ever going quite that far. Hetty rarely has to do any real digging, but she takes her job so seriously that it’s impossible not to root for her. She cares so much about her work that she guiltily leaves cold meals for her husband Robert (Derek Benfield), who tries as hard as he can to be helpful and understanding but really wishes his wife were home more.
In “All Stitched Up,” there’s also a bit of domestic drama introduced; the Wainthropps’ son will be returning home for a while, but despite their excitement, Hetty and Robert worry about how Geoffrey will feel if asked to give up his room. Fans of the show will be on the edge of their seats to see how Hetty handles this quagmire. The resolution will undoubtedly be simple and poignant — a combo that this show has down cold.