I’ve been watching the British detective show Death in Paradise. It’s about a British detective who is assigned for a few years to the fiction Caribbean island, Sante Marie. It’s a great premise in that it involves beautiful people with beautiful accents investigating murders in beautiful places, so there’s very little to not like.
Due to the difficulties of the shooting schedule (the actors have to live in Guadalupe for 6 months out of the year), they’re currently on their third detective. It’s made for an interesting study in character since the setting and formula (and many of the supporting characters) are the same.
So far my favorite detective has been the third, Jack Mooney, who’s an Irishman. Granted, I’m something of a sucker for anyone who will talk about God sincerely, but somewhat apart from that he had a very friendly, jovial style. The first detective was serious but detached. The second was bumbling and clueless and solved mysteries largely as an intellectual exercise. The third started off as more grounded. He was a widower with a teenage daughter whose faith in God let him weather all storms.
But unfortunately TV writers—who are mostly miserable wretches, from what I gather—can’t really write happy characters. The effort at pretending to be healthy is too much for them, I suppose. Anyway, they shipped his daughter off to university and gave him angst over it. Worse, they’ve significantly toned down his joviality. And what’s really disappointing me is that they’ve starting having him scold the murderers.
Outraged detectives are fairly common, but I’ve never seen an instance of it which didn’t strike me as a mistake. I think that it originates in the idea of trying to write realistic characters, but it’s doing so about the wrong thing.
Consulting detectives—whether independent or technically on the police force—are extremely unrealistic. Murders which are caught are almost never clever, either in their commission or afterwards. For all we know there are brilliant murders carried out that are never detected, but they are never detected. Murder mysteries as a genre invents a combination of the two which simply doesn’t happen, and moreover makes it common enough for someone to specialize in it. This is fundamentally unrealistic.
The other thing is the real-life context: people read murder mysteries for fun. The main detective being outraged at the murderer—without whom the reader would not have had several hundred pages of fun—is simply not pleasant. It’s effectively scolding the reader for enjoying the book. Or in the example I started with, for having enjoyed watching the TV episode. Now, there are all types of people in this world. There are people who pay others to insult them while they do calisthenics; I assume that there are people who want to be lectured about how they shouldn’t have enjoyed the book they just read. That said, I think the world would be a better place if this were an under-served market.