At the start of the collection, John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon) moves into the county and starts to make himself at home. While he had a brief appearance earlier in the series, his first mystery, "Death in the Slow Lane," will lead to him explaining quite frequently that he isn't the same as his newly retired cousin, Tom Barnaby (John Nettles). For one, John is more into psychology than his older cousin, and this puts a very different slant on how he solves crimes.
The series quickly establishes John's family in his young wife, Sarah (Fiona Dolman), and their dog Sykes, but the swapping of the Barnabys won't be the only character to change in this collection. Soon after the new DCI settles in, medical examiner Dr. Bullard (Barry Jackson) leaves the show and is replaced by Kate Wilding (Tamzin Malleson), a new potential romantic interest for Jones (Jason Hughes).
These fourteen mysteries will have Barnaby, Jones and Wilding looking into everything from a death during an eclipse to one in a stone circle during the spring equinox. They will be faced with a wedding-themed serial killer and more than a couple that are food related. In one of those, a body is found in a vat of cider, while in another, a large wheel of cheese appears to be the murder weapon when one victim is crushed. Barnaby will have to learn about the local chess players as well as the local bird watchers, and he will even have to look into a case where the most likely suspect is a man who just got out of prison when the lawyer that put him there turns up dead. Of course, when that suspect ends up dead himself, the detectives will have to look elsewhere for their answers.
Midsomer Murders is often filled with guest stars, and these episodes are no exception. In this collection, you will see the likes of Edward Fox (The Day of the Jackal), Jeff Rawle (The Crucifixion, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), Warren Clarke (A Clockwork Orange), Sinead Cusack (V for Vendetta), Hattie Morahan (Beauty and the Beast, Mr. Holmes), Martine McCutcheon (EastEnders, Love Actually, Kiss Kiss (Bang Bang)), Kate Ashfield (Line of Duty, Shaun of the Dead), Kevin Doyle (Downton Abbey) and Harriet Walter (Babel, The Crown).
As Midsomer Murders: John Barnaby's First Cases is a repackaging of the previously released Sets 21, 22, 23 and 24, it should come as no surprise that the special features found on those discs are present in this collection as well. In the featurette titled "Midsomer Murders in Conversation," the cast is interviewed about their views of the show, the iconic theme song, and how they each got started in the acting world. There is also a commentary track for "The Dark Rider" featuring Dudgeon and the episode's director, Alex Pillai, as well as a behind the scenes look at the episode, "Death and the Divas." A main focus of that featurette concerns the amount of effort the showrunners put into recreating the 1960's feel. Finally, there is a menu option to view a biography and filmography for the dog actor that played Sykes, who at the time of this review, has retired and the Barnabys have a new dog named Paddy.
If you are a diligent follower of Midsomer Murders, then there is a good chance you already have the mysteries included in this set as part of your library, but if you are looking for a gift set to get either a more casual fan of the series, or for a fan that isn't as up-to-date on their collection as they would like to be, then John Barnaby's First Cases is a good collection to help pack a whole lot of Midsomer mysteries all in one purchase. Each of the cases is a joy to watch unfold and as this also includes all of the episodes featuring Ben Jones in the DS spot next to the new Barnaby, there is a nice completeness about this particular collection.