Shiny Shelf

Harper’s Island The Complete Season DVD

By Mark Clapham on 08 September 2009

‘Harper’s Island’, a 13-part limited series originally shown on CBS in the USA, has a premise so beguilingly simple and appealing that you want to slap your own forehead in for not thinking of it first.

The high concept can be boiled down thus: ‘an Agatha Christie style classic murder mystery, but with the good looking young people and brutal murders of a modern teen slasher flick’.

Written by ‘Angel’/'X-Files’/'Alias’ graduate Jeffrey Bell, ‘Harper’s Island’ comes from a similar school of knowing genre-juggling, and is just arch enough, high seriousness with the odd knowing wink.

The plot is as barking as you’d expect from the bastard child of ‘Miss Marple’ and ‘Friday the 13th’, with twenty five characters and a web of intrigues, lies, secrets and traumatic pasts. Bell plays with expectations cleverly – some revelations are kept back from the characters, whereas other tensions and plot points are resolved far quicker than expected.

All of the cast are good, with heroes Elaine Cassidy and Christopher Gorham providing a sympathetic core to the series while everyone else has that combination of appealing and annoying traits that you want from an island full of potential suspects/victims. While there’s some interchangeable pretty rich kids in there, there’s also some very clever bits of characterisation.

The local goth girl who comes to the fore in the second episode is a brilliantly written and played oddball, who see-saws your sympathy with virtually every line – is she a sympathetic kook or a dangerous stalker? There’s also a surprisingly brilliant turn by ex- ‘LA Law’ hearthrob as the Leisure Suit Larry-esque ‘Uncle’ Marty, a lovably irresponsible middle-aged sleaze.

This review has no spoilers, and here’s why – you should be watching this for yourself. It’s only 13 episodes, it’s clearly going to be insanely compulsive viewing that’ll only grow more addictive as it approaches the end, and the first two episodes are repeated this Friday on BBC3. It’s a lot of fun, so go indulge.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named


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