Not As Far as Velma. BBC4 Extra and BBC Sounds.
First broadcast some 33 years ago with a youthful Keith Barron (best known in TV’s Duty Free) as the French sleuth and Commissaire Henri Castang, Nicolas Freeling’s mystery thriller Not as Far as Velma feels closer to Falcón rather than The French Connection in its mysterious tone and span of 20th century conflicts.
And with more than three decades passed there is a period feel to the story – not in the way it is told but the subject of terrorism with a Nicaraguan connection.
A horrific civil war took place in the central American country between the left wing Sandanistas and the right wing Contras – backed by USA President Ronald Reagan with money and supplies.
The story links a Holocaust survivor artist whose name is used in a hotel by an unknown visitor which prompts Commissaire Henri Castang, into investigating the mystery. We soon realise the complex story is also a battle of morals or who is on who’s side – left V right, rebel V reactionary, good V evil – as the drama reaches a climax.
It all begins with the disappearance of hotelier, Adrienne Sargent, which sees the Commissaire travelling across France in search of journalist Robert MacLeod whose heritage is traced back to a war time assignation and thus offers clues to solve the puzzle. Van der Valk creator, Nicolas Freeling stirs a pot of Nazi cruelty, international terrorism and of old fashioned detective work in an age before DNA and CCTV. Add to that a bequest of money, a concentration camp survivor, a Catholic bishop, a New Zealander rugby player, and a trip to a child born in Auschwitz and the plot is set.
Dramatized in six parts by Michael Bakewell, despite the passing of years the production still grips the imagination with the listener wanting to hear the next twist in the story. And there is enjoyable domestic drama of Henri and his Czech wife Vera played by Edita Brychta which keeps the story grounded with its complaints about the weather and shopping in windy Biarritz in a story with a title from Raymond Chandler.
Harry Mottram