A Grave Issue – One Murder Mystery Tomb Many?

JOESEPH PARKINSON

I remember when I was at secondary school, whenever I was unable to attend an event my friends and I used to joke that I was too busy watching “Midsomer Murders” to go. For a while I joined in the hilarity (perhaps hilarity is too strong a word actually), relishing my role as “the guy that loves naff television shows like “Midsomer Murders””,  but as time went by, I became possessive  of the programme. When a friend jokingly questioned how the town of Midsomer was still populated when an average of three of its residents were killed each week, I replied in a rather superior tone that Midsomer was a county, not a town, and therefore his question had revealed his inherent stupidity. I was just as shocked that this fellow did not know such simple facts about the geography of a fictional county as I was when another chap confidently claimed that Denmark was the capital city of Paris!

In a world where the summer blockbuster roster is often dominated by burly action heroes, it’s nice to be able to slip off to a world in which anyone can be a hero

I am afraid to say that my knowledge of “Midsomer Murders” gave me ideas above my station, and I was quick to respond smugly when a casual fan wondered aloud what the most ludicrous Midsomer Murders episode was, the answer being the one in which a chap gets staked to his garden with croquet hoops and then killed with wine hurled at him from a trebuchet – or perhaps the one wherein Martine McCutcheon’s character gets crushed by a wheel of cheese.

My testimonials as a fan of slightly rubbish murder mysteries established, I feel I am at liberty to discuss the strange primacy of the genre in television schedules at the moment. What with “New Tricks”, “Ripper Street”, “Tommy and Tuppence” and reruns of “Sherlock”, the BBC seems to have a murder for every night of the week. Many are quick to decry this state of affairs, but I’m not sure that they have considered the positives aspects of the genre. In a world where the summer blockbuster roster is often dominated by burly action heroes, it’s nice to be able to slip off to a world in which anyone can be a hero. For every genuine police detective on television there are several enthusiastic amateurs with next to no qualifications: I’m looking at you Miss Marple.  Every temperament and profession is represented somewhere in the vast soup of crime drama. Gardeners, grumpy pensioners, aristocrats, magicians, opera fanatics and clergymen are all there somewhere. Even the wilfully irritating are represented by Hercule Poirot. I love Poirot, but my goodness, he is annoying. Poirot is a man for whom “a speck of dust would have caused… more pain that a bullet wound”,   and was described by Agatha Christie as “a detestable, bombastic, tiresome, ego-centric little creep”. And she invented the guy.

Who wants to see a muscle-bound action hero solve a crime when you could have a short balding Belgian with a stupid moustache?

The fact of that matter is that in the world of murder mystery, whatever your background or occupation; you can solve the crime and put things to rights. I’m tempted to believe that the decidedly non-heroic nature of her protagonists is at least partly responsible for Agatha Christie’s enduring appeal. Who wants to see a muscle-bound action hero solve a crime when you could have a short balding Belgian with a stupid moustache? Whatever the faults of the genre, at least murder mysteries allow anyone to shine, regardless of background or even aptitude. Everyone’s a winner! Apart from the trebuchet guy of course.

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