Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Ms Fletcher and Ms Christie

Once the festivities were out of the way, I spent much of my Christmas break in the company of the most famous female crime writers; Agatha Christie and Jessica Fletcher.

There was a "Murder She Wrote" marathon consisting of four feature length episodes of the crime-solving mystery writer. The quartet had plots involving the FBI and stolen security secrets, slavery and Jessica's great aunt (Angela Lansbury in a bonnet), a convention of writers and a treasure hunt in Ireland. None were set in the murder capital Cabot Cove, but still it turned out that two of Jessica's friends were killers.

Aside from bits and pieces of Miss Marple, I watched a few episodes of Poirot with my mother. My mother has seen most episodes of Poirot already but due to lack of anything else on the television (and lack of anything else to do), she didn't mind watching them again. I had not seen these episodes before, but impressed my mother by quickly guessing the murderer, before the Belgian detective did. In the episode "Poirot at Christmas", I guessed the killer so quickly that my mother took to telling me I was wrong to throw me off the scent. I didn't quite identify how the crime was committed, but considering it involved a balloon that squealed like a pig that was hardly surprising.

Suffering from my customary inability to sleep in a strange bed, I also saw a bit of the 1978 film "Agatha" about the writer's disappearance. It starred a young Dustin Hoffman, as a journalist, not as Ms Christie!

Along with Christmas Cake and sprouts, I've had my fill of Christie and Fletcher for a while.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


Several shows came to an end this week.

Wallander - just a three part series this one, but it probably cost a fortune for the BBC to make. The second episode had a rather over-the-top plot which seemed highly unlikely, but showed Wallander at his most Morse-like, i.e. falling in love with an unsuitable woman which clouded his judgment about the crimes. The third episode wasn't any more probable, involving a cross-dressing postal worker. I like the scenery and the doom-laden take on society falling apart, and I loved the theme music, but the plots were rather lame and I'm not sure I could have taken any more episodes. I deleted the two episodes of the Swedish version I'd recorded from BBC4 unwatched.

Life - Crews bought his ex-wife a white horse and found out who the real killer was. But lots of loose ends remain, setting up a second series where he can find out how high the corruption goes. And perhaps what becomes of the horse? I'll be tuning back in.

Cold Case - it hasn't come to an end so much as it isn't on the schedule for the next week, perhaps it is just taking a Christmas holiday. Frankly, I'm in need of a break too from its daily dose of misery.

One show that shows no sign of ending is Prison Break. "We're not getting out of here" seems to apply as much to the viewer as the Fox River gang. Its like being stuck in a maze (which actually also happened to me this week) - just when you think you are near the exit, the corridor turns into a dead end or you find out your mother worked for The Company.

Coincidentally the killer from Life turned up in Prison Break as a buyer for Sylla and Dutch from The Shield turned up as a gay man in Cold Case.
Small world.

Quote of the Week

"You'll do whatever I want. Even if it is working with a bassett hound in a birthday hat"

The General to Lincoln Burrows in Prison Break.

Working for the Company doesn't sound so bad. Bring on the bassett hound!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Extra Insight

I watched a BBC4 documentary this morning "Who is Kurt Wallander", a slightly misleading title as it was more about the Sweden that provides the context for the detective. Very interesting background on the social state ideal that has crumbled and now has the same problems as the rest of Europe.

Then the Sunday Times television critic A A Gill (the Marmite of critics, but I'm very much in the love camp even if I don't always agree with him) writes today about the death of the television detective in relation to Wallander. His theory is that the detective characters are still great but are let down by the plots (the article can be read here).

I think he has a made a good point. Many current shows rely on smoke and mirrors, tricks and quirks to distract from the slightness of the plot. The ante is upped on the levels of gore, nastiness or science to compensate. Perhaps we've seen it all before.

But does that matter so much? My favourite thing about Morse was not the crimes or their resolution, but the character of Morse and his relationship with Lewis. The plot is largely secondary to that. In the Rebus novels (particuarly the early ones), I was frequently disappointed with the whodunnit element, as I was with the Henning Mankell book I read, "Return of the Dancing Master", but enjoyed the characters. If the characters are strong enough I think the detective can survive.

So I will continue to watch the detectives even if all of the good plots have already been used. Although, of course, I do have a higher tolerance and intake of detectives than the average person.

Revisiting Rebus

From my limited crime reading, Rebus is my favourite detective but I've somehow missed much of the television adaptions. I remember seeing the "Strip Jack" episode which wasn't one of my favourite books and I vaguely recall that the programme lacked the political insights of the books.

Last night on the Alibi channel, I saw that Rebus was on and the episode was "The Hanging Garden" which I think is the only Rebus book that I've somehow managed to not read. This was from the first series of the show, when Rebus was played by John Hannah. As much as I like Ken Stott, I think John Hannah is a better Rebus. Despite his alcohol dependence and general rubbishness at relationships, the Rebus of the books does quite well with the ladies and I think John Hannah is more plausible in this aspect, at least as a younger Rebus.

Some of the other casting choices weren't so great. Siobhan Clarke was Scottish like her colleagues rather than English as in the books, and Rebus' daughter Sammy didn't seem as feisty and her relationship with Rebus was too good. But these are small points.

It was the best detective programme I've seen in some time.

It used voiceovers, flashbacks and freeze frames, rather experimental for a British show and it pulled it off. The plot was a great one, with some good twists that I didn't see coming.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

First Impressions of Wallander

There was a fair amount of hype around the start of Wallander on the BBC (a fair amount of hype that is for anything that isn't a reality tv show). I'd read one Henning Mankell novel but not from the Wallander series and was intrigued by the hype of him being more cerebral than Morse.

It started with a harrowing scene with a teenage girl setting fire to herself on a rapeseed field in front of the eponymous policeman. It didn't get any happier from there. The murderer's preferred method of execution was scalping and although you perhaps didn't see as much as was suggested, it was unsettling to watch.

There is something slightly odd about the BBC's Wallander, about the way it has been filmed. It doesn't look like a modern television show. Something I think to do with the light. It might be the daylight of Sweden is different from ours, I'm not sure. But there was something unnaturalistic about it and it looked more like Bergerac or British shows from that time than things on television now. Or perhaps it is a more European look and the obviously British actors jar with the Swedish landscape.

I wasn't entirely sure about Kenneth Branagh at first. He literally seemed too big for the television screen. Rather than Morse, it was Boyd from Walking the Dead that he reminded me of most. Perhaps he didn't shout quite so much and it was a more nuanced performances than Trevor Eve ever gives but it was in that school.

So again it is another new show that I neither love nor hate but will be adding to my schedule to see how it develops.