Actually, some of these mysteries had already been re-released recently in a collection called Barnaby's Top 10 where John Nettles chose his favorite episodes and explained why these particular items stood out. One such episode is the show's premier "The Killings at Badger's Drift." In this premier story, Barnaby (Nettles) and Sgt. Gavin Troy (Daniel Casey) investigate the murder of an older woman who spent her time identifying wildflowers. It isn't long before the pair realize that she saw something she shouldn't have and that this death might somehow be tied to a shooting that happened about a year ago.
Series 1 also contains a mystery surrounding a local writing circle, one that starts with the kidnapping of a wealthy man's wife, and another that centers on a new age commune. This last one contains Colin Farrell and Stephen Moyer (True Blood) - both fairly fresh-faced, as this was 1999 after all.
Series 2 of Midsomer Murders not only contains "Strangler's Wood" and "Dead Man's Eleven" from the Top 10 release, but there are two other mysteries. One starts with Barnaby and his wife Joyce (Jane Wymark) deciding to renew their vows. They choose a church in Badger's Drift (yes, the same village from the first episode) and, as luck would have it, Barnaby's latest case has him learning more about the locals and their community a bit more than he would like. When a string of murders start to happen, Barnaby is hard pressed to find a single connection that joins them all together, but when he does - he uncovers a deeply kept and dark secret.
The last mystery in Series 2, "Blood Will Out," has Barnaby and Troy starting off their investigations with a missing goose. Two bands of travellers have set up camp in the village of Martyr Warren, and it is causing a bit of turmoil. When a rich patriarch is found shotgunned to death, suspicion immediately points to one of the leaders of these two groups, but is it that obvious, or was their arrival just a convenient misdirection of blame?
Series 3 starts off with Barnaby trying to vacation in France only to stumble upon what appears to be the murder of a local beggar during a fox hunt. His investigations help him uncover some interesting familial history in the area that shows not everyone is who they seem (or even think) they are.
This series also contains an episode that has Joyce being one of several judges to help determine which Midsomer village wins the title of "Perfect Village." When Barnaby starts to investigate a rash of thefts that turn into a murder investigation in one of the candidate locations, he decides to keep the fact on the down-low so as not to alter her decision. As always, people are rarely straightforward with Barnaby (it seems mostly to keep the village's potential title safe), and as always, the more he digs, the more inconsistencies he finds. It's quickly apparent that someone is covering for someone else, even if the episode's first victim is generally considered to be a bad element. An interesting note about this episode is that the ill-fated thief is played by Orlando Bloom, the year before he made it big as Legolas in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
Series 3 also contains an episode focusing on deaths at a nursing home (found in Barnaby's Top 10) as well as one that seems to be focused on an apparently haunted museum.
The Early Cases' last series starts off with an interesting episode. In "Garden of Death," a local noble family, the Inkpens, have decided to turn a memorial garden they own into a tea shop. This causes a lot of commotion from the locals and Barnaby is called in when one of the Inkpen daughters is found murdered. The investigation starts, but it isn't long before another member of the family is dead. While the death looks like a suicide, the family's matriarch insists that no Inkpen would take their own life. The question is, could the Inkpens be killing each other for inheritance, or could one of the people in the village be dealing out death for other reasons? While this episode doesn't quite have as big a name as Bloom, Farell or Moyer, it does feature a young Neil Dudgeon. Dudgeon later play's Tom Barnaby's cousin, John, and takes over as the lead Barnaby after Tom retires.
Series 4 also contains both "The Electric Vendetta" and "Dark Autumn." Both of these cases were found in the Top 10 collection, and rightly so since they are both top mysteries. One has a body found in a crop circle and guest stars Kenneth Colley (Admiral Piett in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi), while the other centers around the death of a postman who seems to spend a bit too much time at many of the houses along his route.
In the episode "Destroying Angel," the death of a hotel owner means his business is split four-ways since he knows they will keep the place going. When they start dropping dead, Barnaby is called in to figure out exactly where the trail of blood leads. Of course, the prime suspect is whoever eventually gets the hotel, but when Barnaby gets the notion that there might be multiple wills involved, even that line of thought could get tricky.
In another episode in this series, a doctor, played by Ian McNeice known from Doc Martin and also the Sci-Fi channel adaptations of Dune and Children of Dune, hits a horse whisperer who just moved into the area. When Barnaby and Troy arrive at the scene, the body has disappeared. As the investigation starts, Barnaby learns that a person he once put in jail is now living the high life in town. At first, Barnaby is just irritated that the ex-con served a very shortened sentence, and doesn't even soften when he learns the man's daughter is about to be married to a local boy. When that boy's father turns up dead though, Barnaby starts to take a closer look at the ex-con. He feels that the death of the father, this disappearance of the boy's mother, and the missing body are all somehow connected, but it isn't until another body is discovered that Barnaby is able to start putting all the pieces together.
Midsomer Murders: The Early Cases contains a lot of Midsomer, though not a whole lot more beyond the collection's 18 mysteries. Each series comes with a set of production notes and a map of the county (on the disc, not physical notes and maps), and Series 4 also contains a short making-of featurette. All of it's interesting for a Midsomer Murders fan, but someone looking to pick up this collection is looking for the episodes, not the extras.
Personally, I think this is a great collection to pick up. The only real issue might be the many duplicated episodes found between this set and the Barnaby's Top 10 release. I only say that because someone jumping at the chance to watch the earlier mysteries could have easily bought that collection and would now find a lot of overlap between the two sets.