It might look like a peaceful walk on the beach, but if TV crime dramas are to be believed, this person is seconds away from finding a dead body. (Photo credit: Vera Kratochvil/publicdomainpictures)

It might look like a peaceful walk on the beach, but if TV crime dramas are to be believed, this person is seconds away from finding a dead body. (Photo credit: Vera Kratochvil/publicdomainpictures)

The Editor’s Desk: All murder, all the time

If you believe what you see on TV, there are some places to avoid if you want to stay safe

Why would anyone want to live in St. John’s, Newfoundland?

I hasten to add that I am not talking about the real city, which I would dearly love to visit. No, I am talking about its lightly-fictionalized counterpart in the TV series Hudson and Rex, where the titular duo — Det. Charlie Hudson and his canine partner Rex, of the fictional St. John’s Police Department — have, over the course of five seasons and 66 episodes, tackled a series of baffling crimes in and around the city, most of them involving murder most foul.

It means that the fictional St. John’s has a far higher murder rate than the real city, which in 2018 recorded one homicide, and brings me back to why people (in the show) live there. Mind you, the same could be said of any real life locale that is the setting for a long-running crime drama. How many murders, for example, has peaceful Oxford, England seen over the course of three separate series based on Inspector Morse, and other characters created by Colin Dexter? What about Newcastle in northeast England, where DCI Vera Stanhope has, in the course of 46 episodes of Vera, investigated well over 100 murders?

And let’s not get started on fictional settings, such as beautiful Cabot Cove, Maine, the setting for Murder, She Wrote. Despite a population of only 3,500, mystery writer Jessica Fletcher solved cases involving 274 murders over the course of 12 seasons and 265 episodes. Picturesque Midsomer County in Midsomer Murders has an even more appalling murder rate: 581 deaths (including more than 400 murders) across 132 episodes and 22 seasons.

As you can probably tell by now, I watch rather a lot of mystery/crime shows, and it gives me lots of time to ponder questions such as “Why does anyone live here when the odds of getting murdered are so high?” Even if you don’t end up as a victim, the likelihood of finding a body is pretty good. Those kids riding ATVs over the moors, the family picnicking at the beach, the person walking their dog early in the morning, the swimmer in the peaceful lake or river, the workers demolishing a building, anyone doing anything in or around a boat: the chances they will find a dead body are huge, particularly in the first five minutes of the show.

I feel rather sorry for the actor playing said dead body, because unless their character features (alive) in flashbacks, it’s a thankless role. I imagine the phone call from their agent goes something like “Great news, I got you a spot on Vera! No, not a police officer; no, not a suspect either. You’re the first murder victim. You’re found dead in a landfill. Yes, a real landfill. No, no CGI, real garbage. Don’t worry, I’m sure it will be very clean garbage.”

That said, crime shows go through a lot of actors: you need them to play all those suspects and junior officers. I was recently watching an episode of Prime Suspect (starring the great Helen Mirren) from 1993, and the supporting cast was stacked with young up-and-coming actors who have subsequently gone on to distinguished careers: Peter Capaldi, David Thewlis, Jonny Lee Miller, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, James Frain.

The shows are also a safe haven for actors who have long since established distinguished careers and are looking for some light work. Pro tip: if a great actor like 76-year-old Ronald Pickup, one of the finest stage actors of his time, turns up halfway through a 90-minute show, keep an eye on him, because he’s just shot to the top of the suspect list (Vera, “Dark Road”, 2016).

Murder mysteries are consistently some of the most popular shows on TV, and those dead bodies need to appear somewhere. The residents of these (fictitious) places should keep their wits about them, is all I’m saying. And stay away from the water — all the water, all the time — if you want to stay safe, or not make an unpleasant discovery. You’ll be glad you did.

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