Mrs Columbo: The Valley Strangler

Three years she grew in sun and shower,
Then Nature said, “A lovelier flower
On earth was never sown;
This Child I to myself will take;
She shall be mine, and I will make
A Lady of my own.

This is the first verse of Three Years She Grew, by William Wordsworth, and it is found in typewritten form with every dead body in this gripping murder mystery, the fourth episode of the second season of Mrs Columbo, renamed Kate Loves a Mystery for the original broadcast of this episode, along with most from the second season, but restored to the original series title for syndication and foreign sales. It is one of a series of poems about Lucy, Wordsworth’s example of an ideal woman. This is a clue to the motive of the murderer, whose feelings of betrayed by the most important woman in his life has brought him to the point where he takes revenge on other women who repeat the mistakes his mother made, or so he believes.

It’s a very sad story, skilfully written in such a way that we build up a lot of sympathy for the murderer before his identity is confirmed. All the time we think he is being innocently persecuted by the police he is a likeable character, and it’s not difficult to see why Kate likes and trusts him. When she manages to establish a cast-iron alibi for him, it’s a moment of triumph, because it has seemed like the police have been persecuting him unfairly, despite his connection to just one of the victims and apparent lack of a motive. Then, when he springs his trap on Kate, it’s clear that this is a sick and broken individual, damaged horribly by a childhood where his mother replaced his father with another man, who then treated him cruelly. The nature of his childhood abuse is not detailed, but it doesn’t need to be. It must have been brutal to leave him so traumatised and twisted.

This series is now very far removed from the show it was during its first season, and even further removed from its original parent series. Instead of the dramatic irony of a Columbo-esque plot, with the question of how the detective will solve the case and catch out the murderer, these are now murder mysteries, and this is a particularly effective whodunit, albeit limited as per usual by the 45 minute running time. I suppose if you really engage your critical faculties rather than getting swept along by the human interest story, you’ll probably figure out the identity of the murderer relatively easily. But the element that has always been completely different to the parent show is the danger Kate faces on nearly every case, and that has really been doubled down upon for the second season. It’s what makes her divorce such a key part of the show now, and makes me doubt the assumed motivation on the part of the writers to move away from the Columbo name. It’s so much more useful than that, because she’s a vulnerable single mother, never more vulnerable than in this episode, where her marital status as a divorcee is fundamental to the jeopardy she has to face at the end of the episode. If she were still married to Columbo she could not have been a potential victim in the same way, and the case could not have been “terrifyingly personal and awfully close to home”. Basically, this whole story could not have been told in such an effective manner, if at all.

Star Trek fans will find a few of their favourite actors in Columbo and Mrs Columbo episodes, and some may even seek out this show nowadays because they are fans of Kate Mulgrew. This episode will please the Trekkies. Not only does it include Andrew Robinson in an excellent performance, at one point we see the actors who will eventually play Garak and Janeway gazing up at the stars in wonder. One day they will reach them, but long before that they were both proving their abilities as young actors with this excellent episode of Mrs Columbo, the best by a considerable margin since the very first episode of the first season. This feels like a show that has carved out its own niche and has finally found its feet.

Thus Nature spake – The work was done –
How soon my Lucy’s race was run!
She died, and left to me
This heath, this calm and quiet scene;
The memory of what has been,
And never more will be.


Read next in the Junkyard… Mrs Columbo: A Chilling Surprise

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
This entry was posted in Entertainment, Reviews, Spinoffs, Television and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Mrs Columbo: The Valley Strangler

  1. scifimike70 says:

    The thought of how an abused child could be broken to the point of becoming so dangerous when grown up is very sad. Definitely a most pivotal episode for Mrs. Columbo. Thank you, RP, for your review.

    Liked by 1 person

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