The Grinning Man : Jonathan Creek

This is a kind of Heavy Jon Creek episode.

About murder, eugenics, magicians, innocence destroyed and ye olde ladder lean aka Pythagoras.


Set five years after the previous episode, “Gorgons Wood”, “The Grinning Man” begins by introducing the Gothic mansion Metropolis. Since 1938, a number of visitors staying overnight in the mansion’s attic “Nightmare Room” have disappeared without a trace. Originally owned by a spiritualist, the mansion is now the property of his grandson, stage magician Lance Gessler (Nicholas Boulton). Gessler lives with his mother, Constance (Judy Parfitt), his partner Elodie (Jenna Harrison), and their groundskeeper, Glenn (Ciarán McMenamin). They offer shelter to paranormal investigator Joey Ross and her friend Mina (Naomi Bentley) when the two are caught in a storm. Mina elects to sleep in the Nightmare Room, and has vanished by morning. Constance calls in sleuth Jonathan Creek to investigate Mina’s disappearance.

Jonathan has recently begun a relationship with an old acquaintance, Nicola (Katherine Parkinson), who is opposed to his investigative career, believing it to be too dangerous an occupation. Jonathan is still in the employment of the magician Adam Klaus, whose television series is receiving heavy criticism from viewers. To Jonathan’s bemusement, Klaus invests in the 3D pornography industry and begins dating the porn actress Candy Mountains (Jemma Walker). Jonathan inspects the attic room, and the bedroom directly beneath it, but finds nothing suspicious, save for a small vent in the canopy of the room’s four-poster bed, which is opened when pressure is put on the mattress, releasing dead flies.

Investigating events at Metropolis, Jonathan deduces that Gessler’s grandfather was a Nazi sympathiser, who laid a trap in the attic room to kill one of his enemies without arousing suspicion, and which has subsequently killed anyone else who stayed in that room. Jonathan and Joey spend the night in the room, but uncover nothing. The next morning, when trying to figure out what they had done differently to all the victims, Jonathan comes to the realisation that they would have all taken a bath in the adjoining bathroom. Upon realising the secret behind the disappearances, Jonathan races back up to the attic with Glenn. Unfortunately, Joey had already climbed into the bath, which has descended and released her into a water tank below the room, where the corpses of previous victims (including her friend Mina) remain, drowned and decomposing. The bath has not yet returned to its position so Jonathan and Glenn are able to rescue her. Confronting Constance, Jonathan explains that the room the disappearances occurred in was not the real attic room, but in fact located in a flat-roofed tower next to the real attic which had slanted ceilings built in to disguise it as the attic in order to stop people suspecting any traps beneath it. The vent in the canopy was designed to leak an ectoplasmic fluid on the first victim to ensure they would use the bath. The mystery resembles the real-life case of the Jarmans, the sixteenth-century owners of the Ostrich Inn in Slough (Berkshire), who killed wealthy travellers by tipping them into a barrel of boiling water via a hinged bed in one of the bedrooms.

During the investigation, Gessler’s partner, Elodie, is kidnapped. Joey follows Gessler from his stage show one night, and observes him slashing Elodie’s throat. She, Jonathan, and Nicola later discover Elodie’s dead body, but when they return with policemen, the corpse has been switched for a prop dummy. Glenn reveals that he and Elodie were in love, and had recently married in secret. He suspects that Gessler may have murdered Elodie out of jealousy after she confessed their marriage to him. The police, however, receive a video of Elodie walking through a park the morning after she was supposedly murdered, with the day’s newspaper in plain view for validation. Jonathan realizes that Gessler had manipulated Delia Gunning (Ellen Ashley), the editor of the local newspaper, into printing a fake copy a week in advance. By making the video before killing Elodie, he could deflect suspicion from himself, leading the police to believe that she had faked her own death and run away. Gessler ensured the front page’s authenticity by having Delia create the day’s headline herself, releasing a briefcase full of bees in the middle of a local council meeting. Jonathan’s suspicions became aroused as the following story about the construction of a motorway through six villages would have been far more engaging as a front-pager. Jonathan and Joey arrive at Delia’s home just in time to save her from being murdered by Gessler, who later kills himself by gassing himself in his car.

The “Grinning Man” the title refers to is the subject of a Hieronymous Bosch painting, which hangs in the attic Nightmare Room. Once the episode’s mysteries are resolved, Constance confesses that she rescued the painting from a burning room decades previously, leaving an elderly uncle to die as she did so. She has Glenn assist her in burning the painting in Metropolis’ grounds. The episode ends with Jonathan, Joey, and Adam arriving at a restaurant to celebrate with their significant others. Adam discovers that he has been conned by Candy, and will not be receiving any return on his pornography investment. Joey receives a call from her partner, Alec (Adam James), who reveals that he is in Miami with Nicola and the two are now seeing one another. As the maître d’ (Graham Vanas) arrives to lead them to their private booth, Jonathan jests; “Three for the Nightmare Room”.

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