Monday, October 1, 2018

Review: The Tony and Cassandra Mysteries, Series One


Dark Shadows gets its own Nick and Nora Charles in the debut series of The Tony and Cassandra Mysteries from Big Finish. Anchored by the dazzling rapport of ex-lawyer, turned supernatural P.I. Tony Peterson (Jerry Lacy) and Maine’s head witch in charge Cassandra Collins (Lara Parker), this first series really charms, creeps out, and delights in equal measure across four macabre whodunits. Better still, this series is a wonderful jumping on point for those interested in both Dark Shadows and the stellar audio dramas of Big Finish. Perfect for a breezy Halloween binge listen, the first series of The Tony and Cassandra Mysteries starts this new spin-off series off on a real high note.

Available from Big Finish.
Standing somewhat apart from main continuity, this first series really works hard to be both accessible and entertaining. Lucky for us, it succeeds at both. Though each mystery can be enjoyed on their own, this first series nails a sort of a loose serialization that rewards listeners taking in the whole box set. Battling fallen angels, cunning deal making daemons, time loops, and sometimes each other, Tony and Cassandra find themselves back in each other’s lives, forming a partnership that grows from tenuous allies to a supernatural investigation team to rival John Constantine and Zatanna. The scripts from Philip Meeks, Zara Symes, Alan Flanagan, and Aaron Lamont, stand as wonderfully spooky, gimmicky mysteries that hook listeners early, but the writing staff always makes sure to make good use of their best tools; Jerry Lacy and Lara Parker.

From the first entry, “The Mystery of Crucifix Heights”, the pair, supported by Julia Duffy’s plucky and long suffering Rita Channing, Tony’s secretary, really seem to relish the character’s new found status quo, under the direction of  David Darlington, Darren Gross, and Joseph Lidster, this series’ directorial staff. Fans of the estranged couple will delight to know that the actors haven’t lost one bit of their spunky, hilarious banter as they bicker and charm across the stories. Even better both actors really build on the established canon interactions of the characters and grow it into something new, but familiar. The Tony and Cassandra of this series are not the same people who met in Collinsport all those years ago and this debut series is all the better for it. One of the great joys of these new “extended universe” works is seeing how the characters have evolved beyond the show and The Tony and Cassandra Mysteries is a great example of how fun that evolution can be, both for the audience and the original cast members.

And the stories themselves are real belters! Like I said, they are loosely connected by the first series’ semi-serialized structure, but each one really nails a specific kind of dread and horrific fun. Philip Meeks’ opening entry is a classic “Party in a Posh Mansion” mystery in which Tony is enlisted to keep watch over an auction of occult items where the bidders suddenly start dropping like flies. The next, “The Mystery of La Danse Macabre” by Zara Symes, finds our gruesome twosome looking into a haunted playhouse, complete with a falling chandelier straight from Phantom. The series one finale, “The Mystery of Karmina Sonata” by Aaron Lamont, is a gory send up of the “Dame in Distress” type of noir these spinner rack whodunits birthed and tees up the show nicely for the incoming second and third series.

But it is the season’s third story, “The Mystery of Flight 493” by Alan Flanagan, that makes this debut series really special. Equal parts crucial point in Tony and Cassandra’s new working relationship and a wickedly clever horror take on the “time loop” story structure, this yarn really sells both the dynamic of its leads and the spooky, surprisingly psychological threats they will be facing. Hearing the show’s opening music bumper over and over across the tracks of this tale can get a bit grating, but for my money, this story is where this first series really finds its footing, sending it into a finale episode that really ties the room together, man.

If you were looking for a user friendly way into this franchise or even a playful side story starring one of the show’s great ships (don’t @ me), then look no further than The Tony and Cassandra Mysteries Series One. Anchored by the indomitable charm and skill of Lara Parker and Jerry Lacy, this twistedly fun side trip into the crossroads of crime and the supernatural is well worth taking. Just don’t make any deals. We all know how deals at the crossroads turn out and if you aren’t careful, you’ll find yourself as another case file in the “Unusual Investigations” of Tony Peterson and Cassandra Collins.

Justin Partridge has always loved monsters and he thinks that explains a lot about him. When he isn’t over analyzing comics at Newsarama or ranting about Tom Clancy over at Rogues Portal, he is building Call of Cthulhu games, spreading the good word of Anti-Life, or rewatching Garth Marenghi's Darkplace for the dozenth time. He can be reached at the gasping Lovecraftian void that is Twitter @j_partridgeIII or via e-mail at Odds are he will want to talk about Hellblazer.  

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