1/7: The Devil’s Dust

Mrs McCarthy, wrapped like a Christmas present.

I watched this episode while sprawled in the king-size bed of my hotel room, after I’d been through the decidedly un-hotel-like leaf tea selection. Living the dream.

This was a nuclear episode. It didn’t go up like a mushroom cloud, but it did involve Mrs McCarthy, clad in a kind of beekeeper’s suit, being an atomic emergency response unit of one, and Susie strolling the fields with a geiger counter.

Though the atomic age is a topical touch, the scriptorial emphasis goes into making the villagers a-fear-ed of the radiation girl, rather than (as far more likely in 50s Britain) the West Indian man.

The radiation girl probably isn’t, but Mrs McCarthy manages to spread the rumour that the teen’s mystery affliction is to do with her father’s nuclear science job. It’s a good old-fashioned community shunning, and before long the girl has legged it.

Or has she? This episode’s bodily suspense is in whether there will end up being one. Did she run away or was she abducted?

The possibilities that present themselves are inevitably of the dirty laundry variety. The girl’s diary suggests some not-so-girlish goings on with the family doctor, who is soon banged up and under serious suspicion from Inspector Trenchcoat. Then, the girl’s pyjamas fetch up in the family dustbin, their bloodstains rather dimming the parental lustre. Mr & Mrs Scientist’s marriage is not exactly what it seems, either. And, it’s Father Brown who notices the similarities between the warts on the West Indian plumber’s hands and the marks of the girl’s strange skin rash.

By this stage, the disappeared girl is looking decidedly victim-like and we’re waiting for the revelation of which candidate was her final victimiser. But, we still can’t have a whodunnit without The Body. Susie with her geiger counter comes in handy for suspense, along with some red (herring) crockery.

Do I need to point out that it might not be what it seems, but that if anyone can fathom the mystery it’s Father Brown? It turns out more a matter of bloodlines than a bloody corpse.

The episode ends with Father Brown suggesting the future discovery of asbestosis. “Aha!” we’re supposed to say, making connections to mystery afflictions. Unless we know that asbestosis was documented in 1924, in which case we (or I, as it were) groan and make another cup of tea.

Things learnt this episode:

  • Racism has now been airbrushed from post-war Britain.
  • Crockery can become radioactive – and should then be left for the bin-men with a sign saying ‘destroy’.
  • Bloodstained pyjamas should also simply be left for the bin-men.
  • No-one in the village is happily married.
  • Lady Felicia is probably never coming back.