Lomax’s latest parking place for his narrowboat seems idyllic enough – but his peace is abruptly shattered when several bullets are fired in his direction. He initially assumes he’s the target, but upon further investigation that turns out not to be the case ….
The shooter – Thomas (Paul Chapman) – is the centre of attention during the opening part of the story. Arriving in the UK on Concorde, it’s plain that he’s a professional arriving to do a specific job. We’re misdirected into assuming that this is to kill Lomax, but it quickly becomes obvious that isn’t so (his practice shots in the woods simply went rather wide of the mark and hit Lomax’s narrowboat by mistake).
For a well paid assassin, you have to say it slightly beggars belief that he’d be quite so inaccurate in his shooting (it’s also a clumsy way to get Lomax involved in the story, but any other way would probably have seemed just as contrived, so we’ll have to let it go).
Thomas is staying in a small hotel which overlooks a palatial house where Jimmy Nolan (Bernard McNamara) is currently resident. It seems unlikely that Nolan would own the house and the slightly mocking tone of his companions provides us with another clue – they’re police officers who have the job of minding him (the episode title will tell you why).
Nolan might be a very minor villain, but he has had the knack of listening into conversations with major league offenders. So delivering him safely into the witness box wouldn’t be pleasing for many in the underworld (hence Thomas’ presence). McNamara would always do you a nice line in seedy villainy (he was a regular in Hazell as Cousin Tel, for example).
Lomax calls his regular newspaper contact – Robinson (Terry Taplin) – who intercedes with the police on his behalf. This means we’re graced with an appearance from the always dependable David Saville as Superintendent Richards who, rather surprisingly, spills the beans about this delicate operation to Robinson.
Once Lomax knows Nolan’s life is in danger you’d assume he’d warn the officers guarding him, but that doesn’t happen. It’s slightly hard to work out why, but maybe Lomax wanted the kudos of defeating Thomas personally.
If so, his plan backfires spectacularly as Thomas knocks him out and holds him hostage at gunpoint. Until this point, the episode’s two main characters – Lomax and Thomas – have been essentially solitary (interacting with others, but only on a surface level).
The point when they’re brought together is where The Grasser really begins to build momentum. Paul Chapman is given some interesting dialogue which fleshes out Thomas’ character significantly – he may in part be the dispassionate assassin of cliché but he’s also gifted some more unusual character traits. Thomas invests the money he receives fron successful hits into sheep. “Last job was an Italian vineyard owner. Good value. 150 females and five rams”.
The downbeat ending (although I suppose how downbeat you regard it depends on which side of the law you’re on) is effective. And it’s worth noting that by the end Thomas has emerged as a far more interesting and sympathetic character than Nolan (maybe partly as played, but presumably mostly as scripted). But whatever the outcome, Lomax ends up bruised, battered and inside a police cell – although the always dependable Robinson is on hand to bail him out.