Written by Mark Thomas Passmore
Directed by David Darlington and Darren Gross
In which Tony Peterson (Lacy) and his partner in crime-solving, Cassandra Collins (Parker) have made the most of their holiday in England. But when they decide to visit Tony’s estranged cousin – Lord Trent Malkin (McGeough) in the isolated village of Little Bascombe, they find themselves entangled in a web of mayhem and deceit…
For listeners, it’s been a year since Tony and Cassandra bantered their way through The Phantom Bride, but considerably less time than that for the sleuths, who’ve been touring the backwaters of southern England before popping in on Lord Malkin. That’s right – hardscrabble lawyer-turned-private-eye Tony Peterson is related by marriage to the gentry. Even for Dark Shadows, this is an implausible stretch, but author Mark Thomas Passmore just about pulls it off by concentrating on the history of emotional strife between the two cousins. However, actual spilled blood is thicker than familial bad blood, and the plot quickly shifts into full-on Agatha Christie mode.
One of Malkin’s maids has purloined an heirloom from the Lord’s personal collection – a statuette of a cat – and absconded with the trinket. Thus, Tony and Cassandra join forces with Lord Malkin and his gin-loving wife Ruby (Albiston) to track down the culprit and her cachet. Along the way, they encounter hostile villagers, an obstructive police constable, an equally unhelpful vicar, and irrepressible local amateur sleuth Miss Emma Simon (Sutton in full Miss Marple mode).
Unfortunately, these encounters feel more like a series of lurching set pieces rather than an organically flowing narrative. Although the actors are all on fine form – Sarah Sutton in particular seems to be having a blast playing someone other than Nyssa of Traken – and the scenes are effectively written, the play as a whole just doesn’t come together the way it should. Sure, the revelation of the villain’s identity is interesting – especially since Big Finish have already used a version of this entity in another audio range – but even that ends up feeling rather forced.
Fortunately, Jerry Lacy and especially Lara Parker prevent this story from being a complete train wreck. Throughout their adventures, Tony and Cassandra’s relationship has been moving inexorably towards something more serious. And anyone even remotely familiar with the way that Dark Shadows operates knows what that portends – particularly as it’s been telegraphed lately that the Dark Lord has not been pleased with Cassandra’s actions and behaviour… These scenes go a long way towards rescuing The Devil Cat, but they’re a long time coming.
Verdict: There’s no pussyfooting about it – this story was a whisker away from being a total catastrophe until the last act’s last-minute reprieve… 5/10
John S. Hall