A slew of crime shows has drawn out the sleuth within us4 min read . Updated: 17 Sep 2020, 09:35 PM IST
The binge watching of crime shows afforded by the lockdown seems to have immersed many of us so deeply in their storylines that their characters are part of our social media conversations
I had great admiration for a former colleague who worked her grey cells at a small private detective agency before she hopped aboard the journalistic train of thought. “Mind you, we were not solving murders or mysteries, just doing random checks on potential employees, and prospective brides and/or grooms." Growing up on a staple diet of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven, and then Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, that disclaimer didn’t diminish my thralldom in any measure: In my mind, there was a huge romance associated with any sort of detection exercise.
Years later, the newspaper I worked for started a segment on the work days of “offbeat" professionals, and I immediately wanted to put the daily life of a private investigator under the scanner. My colleague who worked on the story was resourceful enough to “pose" as a detective for a day, but ended up tailing a man—the “suspect", as it were—to determine whether or not he actually worked as a sales rep as he professed to the woman he’d proposed to (her family didn’t want only his word for it).
In real life, these have been the only two Marple-and-Poirot reference points I’ve come across. And yet, these days I feel if I had to live my life all over again, I may want to be a detective. My area of fine-tooth combing would be a picturesque English outpost or a Welsh hamlet or a wee Scottish village where the sky is either as crisp as fresh bluebells or where the morning mist rolls in to settle like a cumulus halo atop a craggy cliff—and yet, bodies keep piling up insidiously.
You see, ever since our lockdown started, I have embarked on a binge of British crime serials—and their attendant sleuths. It’s been an affair to remember. Earlier, though I’d loved murder mysteries on paper, liked reading about them that is, I never had the time or requisite patience for procedural criminal dramas (unless they were like Moonlighting, which I watched for the chemistry between Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd, not the crimes they solved). Films, sure. Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Miss Marple and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes were also exceptions, but that was because they were throwbacks to my reads.
These days, however, I am a fan of the slow burn of atmospherics and character evolvement—the hallmarks of these recently-discovered crime series—that play out with nail-biting perfection over myriad sittings. It’s not just me. On an average day, I find myself exchanging at least half-a-dozen WhatsApp messages on what to watch next (and why) with folks who, like me, have been suddenly bestowed with the luxury of interrupted television watching—no judgements drawn. And I scan Facebook to see which crime series is being debated on walls, and set my OTT (over-the-top) agenda accordingly.
Unlike the wild guessing game we have been playing about nabbing the virus, the genre of crime series gives us clues—and cues—to hold us hostage. I’ve taken to postulating names of killers and murder manoeuvres, and am most chuffed when they turn out right. Discussions of plot developments, season denouements and defining characteristics of presiding detectives are what constitute enthusiastic conversations in my new-normal daily routine. By the time the covid era ends, I’d want to know how many notches the career graph of the detective sector has gone up.
The other evening, my friends and I decided to call it a night after a five-hour-long Shetland marathon. We’d pick up the thread first thing in the morning. Everyone, including myself, was red-eyed and sleepy. Except that the episode ended with one of the key characters—Deputy Superintendent Tosh, whose life seems subliminally interlinked to mine—missing and possibly murdered by the bad guys. I had to find out if she was okay or not, else I wouldn’t be able to sleep, so I thought of sneaking a peek into the first five minutes of the next chapter. I did. She was alright. “Tosh is alive, Tosh is alive," I screamed in relief, and ran to the next room to convey the good news to others.
On a different note, this is perhaps the smartest-ever marketing ploy by British tourism: All I dream about today are travel tours around crimes scenes portrayed—the Shetland Islands, the Dorset coast that passed off as fictional Broadchurch, the Cheshire stretch where Paranoid was filmed, Aberystwyth from Hinterland, and so on. There is some super-edgy stuff being broadcast from other regions, like Frozen or The Valhalla Murders, where the landscape is usually icy and snowed under—a metaphor for investigating what lies beneath.
I find it intriguing how crime has become “territorial", how a particular place defines its anatomy and even psychology. I’m paying heed to dialects (urban vs rural, Gaelic vs Celtic) and observing “detective fashion". If it hadn’t been for covid, I’d have never discovered my keen sense of detection.
Finally, watching a series like Dirty John, agog, dinner in hand, not being bothered about committing culinary crimes like mixing up dal with sourdough bread, is a #StayAtHome experience I have savoured. I hope it doesn’t go away anytime soon.
Sushmita Bose is a journalist, editor and the author of ‘Single In The City’.