Why All the Murders?


Let me first start by saying thank you to Mainely Murders Bookstore for having this sign that so perfectly illustrates the theme of this post. I hope to get a chance to check out the actual store the next time I’m in Kennebunk, Maine. Now, on to the post.

What is so great about murder in fiction?

Grantchester, Midsommer, Doctor Blake, Miss Fisher, Father Brown and an endless list of Masterpiece Mysteries all revolve around the heinous crime of taking the life of another human being. I can’t help but feel that if the death toll in real life were to ever match the combined total of all of the murders in these shows, the planet’s population problem would be licked.

It wouldn’t be so bad accept that the stories are so boringly predictable. The allure of a mystery is that it allows the viewer or reader to gather clues and try to solve it before the story is over. But if six different shows in the course of a week are all to do with investigating a murder, than after awhile you’d have to suffer from a severe memory impairment to be surprised.

For example, Grantchester and Doctor Blake are two completely different shows that both revolve around a main character who regularly works with the police to solve murders. One takes place in England and the other in Australia. Both take place after World War 2. Both main characters have an affinity for hard booze. And in both shows, within the first season, the problem of homosexuality being an arrestable offense in the 50’s are addressed, but oh no, someone’s been murdered and the two gay lovers who had to sneak around in order to explore their passion becomes a B plot. Why? Why not make the mystery actually revolve around the two gay men? It’s okay if you want to show how progressively minded your Anglican priest is, but give your audience some credit too, we don’t need a body with every episode.

Not every Sherlock Holmes story involved a murder. In fact, one story entitled The Adventure of the Yellow Face involved a woman who was trying to hide the existence of her black child, whom she had with a man in a previous marriage, from her current husband.

Holy Controversial Topics Batman! Do you mean to tell me that Arthur Conan Doyle, power house of the 19th century who still has readers to this very day, actually addressed the challenges of an interracial couple living in 1893? And it was a story in the mystery genre? Well gee, maybe we should put our incredibly unhealthy obsession with dead bodies aside for a moment and see if we can write an episode around that.

Okay, Doyle might not have actually been so progressively minded. After all, he also wrote an extremely stereotypical black character in another story that I won’t go into. But my point is that it was obviously possible to have a story within the same series not be about murder.

Then again, there is another more sinister theory that I have given voice to. Maybe PBS is deliberately filling up their line-up with murder mysteries as a sort of subtle threat to all potential donors. It would be a mystery in and of itself if we were to get a look at the totals from every fundraising event over the last ten years and see if the lower amounts correlate with how many shows they get the rights to air that involve a gruesome death.


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