Acorn TV Murder Mystery Roundup: Four Brilliant New Series

Anna Maxwell Martin as country vicar Merrily Watkins in Midwinter of the Spirit

The much anticipated debuts of the Downton Abbey Season 6 premiere and Sherlock: The Abominable Bride have been a welcome Victorian Christmas gift.

But now that the New Year is well under way, it’s time to look at some of the terrific new series available to stream and buy on Acorn TV.

Acorn TV has a great selection of big dramas from Britain and the Commonwealth, with a well-curated cache of murder mysteries and police procedurals.

It’s a sweeping generalization – but true – that many programmes from the hinterlands are better written, better acted and directed than much of North American/Hollywood fare of the same genre.

And one of the things that sets them apart at first look is their refreshing naturalism. Much is made of the natural backgrounds against which perplexing things happen.

Nature is beautiful, but it has destructive properties symbolising us at our best – and worst.

Windswept hills and dales, thundering seashores, cliffs and dark days on the moors, along with the gritty residue of twilight city alleys, all add atmosphere and depth to unthinkable crimes and the good, if flawed people who search for answers.

Midwinter of the Spirit is an intriguing spiritual and psychological mystery that will get under your skin, no matter what your religious stance.

Anna Maxwell Martin stars as Merrily Watkins, a chain-smoking, widowed single mother and rural Anglican pastor training to be a “deliverance minister” or an exorcist.

Watkins is called to a gruesome crucifixion murder scene to make sense of it but the carnage and twisted religious symbolism throw her into self-doubt.

She enters a terrifying world as she joins forces with the local constabulary to fight something evil. But what’s happening is bigger and more destructive than they can imagine.

The pretty countryside hides decay, against the ancient stone church that symbolises our hope for security and safety.

Meanwhile, Black Work follows Leeds Police Constable Jo Gillespie (Sheridan Smith) as a homicide investigation comes uncomfortably close to home. Her husband, an undercover officer, is murdered under strange circumstances.

Sheridan Smith as PC Jo Gillespie in Black Work
Sheridan Smith as PC Jo Gillespie in Black Work

She’s warned to stay away from the case but things aren’t adding up. She defies her superiors by investigating on her own, and putting her life at risk.

Jo learns deeply disturbing facts about her husband’s double life and that their marriage was built on lies.

She must protect her children from knowing too much as they endure the loss of their dad. As she resolves to become stronger, her nerves begin to fray.

Leeds is a big city but the series is shot as a series of disparate neighbourhoods and countryside, all of them claustrophobic and overcast.

The relaxed vibe of New Zealand’s North Island wine country, where The Brokenwood Mysteries Series 2 is set, speaks volumes about Det. Senior Sgt. Mike Sheppard (Neill Rea) and his partner Det. Kristin Sims (Fern Sutherland).

Neill Rea and Fern Sutherland in The Brokenwood Mysteries

A surface laissez-faire attitude belies the intelligence and experience that goes into solving gruesome local mysteries. They are chalk and cheese by nature, creating a complete unit, a blessing and a curse and, as they’re smart enough to know they’re on the same side, highly watchable.

Elsewhere, Acorn whisks us away to Montreal’s gritty underside for the police procedural series and character mediation 19-2 starring Jared Keeso and Adrian Holmes.

Keeso plays Ben, a “green” officer who transfers from a country detachment to the big city police department. His disdainful new partner Nick (Holmes) resents the newbie as he mourns the death of his previous partner. He is at risk of unraveling.

Jared Keeso and Adrian Holmes as Ben and Nick in cop drama 19-2

The new partnership is troubled from the get go and colours their effectiveness on the job. 19-2 has the same smart, dense personal feel of the great Canadian series Da Vinci’s Inquest and Da Vinci’s City Hall. It’s like looking through the keyhole at law enforcement.

The world of 19-2 is concrete cityscapes under dark skies with occasional forays to Ben’s rural home, two distinct psychologies dictated by environment.

In these gritty dramas, the characters belong to their geography and essential local psychology. They are tied to the realities and meanings of their surroundings including terrain, weather, vegetation and climate that shape their character.

Farms are desolate places where bad things happen. Small villages seethe beneath the surface and cities put us chock-a-block against our neighbours.

They pay homage to Nordic noir, the original TV genre of nature, naturalism, psychological authenticity and economy of language. The original Wallander comes to mind as a pioneer of the genre.

Black Work DVD debuts January 26 via
Midwinter of the Spirit streams on January 11
Brokenwood Mysteries streaming now on
19-2 streams January 18 on

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