I’ve been watching a little of the ITV Agatha Christie’s Marple series, and enjoying Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple quite a lot — she does a lovely job contrasting her mild manner and soft voice with her sharp awareness of murder and what drives people to it. But I’m burning out very rapidly, and not for any reasons to do with the show itself. Instead it’s a matter of genre — and my fundamental problem with murder mysteries.
They are, a priori, about a bad thing having already happened. The best the protagonists can do is to try and deliver justice after the fact.
In a few cases they may forestall a subsequent murder, e.g. in the case of a serial killer going after their next victim. But in many cases shows try to raise the stakes by whacking a second person along the way, so now the detective or cop or whoever is playing cleanup to two horrible crimes. Sometimes more.
I’ve been re-watching Veronica Mars with my husband (who’s never seen most of it before), and while the metaplot of season one is indeed about a murder, the individual episode mysteries are about other crimes. Somebody has been conned out of their money, or a car’s been stolen, or a father has gone missing. I think that’s a large part of why I’m able to take the show in larger doses than I can take murder mysteries these days. In those plots, it’s possible to make people whole — to not just get justice, but to undo or at least significantly mitigate the harm.
These days, I think I need that. I mean, it’s not to say that non-mystery novels don’t frequently involve bad things happening that can’t be put right; obviously they do. But it feels different to me when the entire raison d’etre of the series is to have people die, again and again, with the heroes only taking action after that’s happened.
That mode wears on me after a while, even when counterbalanced by a charming old lady. Which is why I think I’ll be turning to something else soon, no matter how adorable Geraldine McEwan is as Miss Marple.