The new mystery/crime series “Whitstable Pearl” reminds me of a darker version of “Murder, She Wrote” — with the English seaside town of Whitstable subbing for Cabot Cove and a younger version of no-nonsense sleuth Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) as its protagonist.
The six-episode Acorn TV series is based on Julie Wassmer’s novels and was shot on location in Whitstable, located on the north coast of Kent. That’s a big boost, since you can almost feel the cold spray mist coming off the North Sea as you get to know each of the major characters. It really sets the atmosphere.
The series revolves around Pearl Nolan (Kerry Godliman). She’s the single mother of a teenage son, Charlie (Rohan Nedd), and owns the Whitstable Pearl, a local restaurant known for its oysters and homey atmosphere. She runs the eatery with her brash, opinionated mother, Dolly (Frances Barber).
Pearl is also an ex-cop who left the force after getting pregnant with Charlie, and now runs her own private investigation firm from the restaurant. In the premiere, she finds her old friend Vinnie — a fisherman who supplied the Whitstable Pearl with oysters — (literally) dead-in-the-water.
The case is assigned to DCI Mike McGuire (Howard Charles), a brooding, bearded investigator who recently transferred to Whitstable from London and detests small-town life (“because you have to talk to people,” he says).
He’s hiding some secrets of his own, including his anguish over the death of his wife. Pearl (naturally) gets involved in the investigation, which impacts her young employee, waitress Ruby (Isobelle Molloy) — and, as she works the case with McGuire and his tough-guy facade starts to crack, you can see that their relationship is heading into a closer (romantic?) direction.
Each episode of “Whitstable Pearl” is close-ended, in the sense that a case is solved, but Vinnie’s death continues to reverberate in the proceeding installments, so there’s a bit of continuity. (Episode 2 involves the attempted murder of a real estate agent and a Robin Hood-type doling out wads of cash to locals — we’ll leave it at that.)
Godliman, who co-stars opposite Ricky Gervais in his Netflix series “After Life” (in flashbacks as Lisa, his deceased wife), fits nicely into the world of “Whitstable Pearl” as do her co-stars, who have nice onscreen chemistry. The series arrives with an A-list pedigree (“Lilyhammer” creator Oystein Karlsen) and moves along at a brisk pace against a picturesque backdrop reminiscent of other British crime shows (most notably “Broadchurch”).
Why these quaint coastal towns seem to each possess an evil underbelly remains a mystery — but I’m glad that, at least in Whitstable, Pearl Nolan is trying to solve those dilemmas, one case at a time.