A kind detective investigates the seedy underbelly of an idyllic village in new murder mystery Three Pines.
The eight-part series, hittingon Friday, stars Alfred Molina as Chief Inspector Armand Gamache — a calm, reassuring detective who’s basically a huggable dad. Showrunner Emilia di Girolamo — who wrote gritty British crime drama Deceit — adapts Louise Penny’s award-winning mystery novels following the gentle detective as he investigates murders in an isolated Canadian village.
A shocking amount of crime takes place in the Three Pines community, which is populated by a host of eccentric characters. (One of these is an old lady who carries her duck companion around town with her.) It’s almost like an Agatha Christie mini-movie where everyone has ulterior motives and, sometimes, the character portrayals are similarly over the top.
This creepy small village schtick would probably make an enjoyable dark comedy, but the artistic Three Pines community of writers and painters live in a place hiding a much more terrible history of Indigenous abuse.
The show perilously walks a tightrope of balancing its lighter aspects — quirky, incompetent local police agent Nichol (Sarah Booth) provides most of the comic relief — and the deeply shocking events that take place in the Indigenous community. Outside Three Pines, another mystery involves the disappearance of a young Indigenous woman — she’s one of many who’ve gone missing, but almost all cases remain unsolved.
Gamache agrees to take on this missing person case, an overarching storyline that’s threaded through every episode. Every two episodes introduces a new incident in the outlandish township, yet Gamache always contemplates the young woman whose family is adamant she’ll never return. He’s haunted by wild animals and something unresolved in his own past, a little like Bill Pullman’s weary Detective Harry Ambrose from The Sinner.
Eventually, the Three Pines cases reveal deeper layers, and a theme of tortured children rises to the surface. Yet in comparison to the missing person case, the opening Three Pines scenario has an almost laughable wacky slant: A wealthy fur coat-ensconced snob is electrocuted in plain daylight during a curling competition.
Still, it’s an admittedly tantalizing setup asking for a Sherlockian detective’s mastermind analysis. Gamache has the help of grumpy Inspector Beauvoir (Rossif Sutherland) and Sergeant Lacoste (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers), an Indigenous woman whose identity comes into play with the missing person cases and a potential genocide.
While the books may have been a hit, it’s still odd to see Gamache and his team constantly drawn back to the same village for yet another murder. Luckily, Molina is endlessly comforting to watch as the hero detective, and the rich base of Canada-specific storylines adds another engaging layer.
Three Pines introduces Alfred Molina’s likable Inspector Gamache, but it’s an odd murder mystery whose main storyline doesn’t always fit comfortably with its other pieces. Still, there’s enough intrigue and heart to keep you waiting for the mystery to unravel by the end.
The first two episodes of Three Pines premiere on Friday.