Once upon a time, I had to wait until Thursday nights to enjoy them – That was when Maryland Public Broadcasting scheduled their mysteries. Now, streaming, Netflix, Apple TV, etc. means I can watch a mystery every night! And the crazier the news headlines, the more mysteries I watch! Miss Marple and Poirot hooked me, but others quickly secured my admiration: Alleyn, Daglish, Maigret, Morse, Lewis, Frost, Inspector Barnaby, Endeavor – all about Inspector Morse when he was a new detective -- and now, Richard Poole, in the Caribbean.
These mysteries – novels or movies -- differ from the more gritty stories in other series, and reality police shows. Maybe it’s their location? The villages are picture postcard perfect, the city -- usually London or Oxford – sophisticated; the homes can be baronial or cozy . . . even the clutter is charming.
That is, until someone is done in. Evil, even in a well-appointed backdrop is evil . . . murder is always most foul. (Hamlet) As the plot line unfolds, and clues abound, the characters – except for the detectives -- become less appealing, their relationships turn out to be more complex; the scenery becomes more foreboding. Some of the apparel even begins to look cheesy. Even if the murder victims had it coming, the irrevocability of their state is shocking.
P.D. James asks rhetorically in her memoir Time to Be in Earnest, why one would want to write detective novels. Some questions explain my fascination with the whodunits.
Who wants to become a detective novelist and why? To impose order on terrifying chaos? To bring justice out of injustice? To give the illusion we live in a moral and comprehensible universe? . . . To provide a structure within which writer and reader can safely confront terror, violence and death? To show that to some things at least there is an answer? To distance the atavistic fear of cruelty and death? . . . To create a modern morality platy in which truth is at least established even it doesn’t prevail?
So, the crazier the times, murder mysteries offer some solace – wherein I see a few canny souls, who notice all the clues I miss, and assisted by sidekicks, or pathologists, and barristers, can negotiate their way through horror and right appalling wrongs – one at a time. To them, Truth matters.
Miss Marple is a patient observer of human nature while living in a timeless English village; she never forgets the lessons her companions taught her. She applies these lessons to life outside her village. When she meets aristocrats, businessmen, actors, lawyers and the police she see the same foibles and failings she observed in her fellow villagers. And because church attendance was as much a part of her life as was her creator, Agatha Christie’s, Miss Marple intuitively understood the truth why we all have so much in common:
We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts . . . And there is no health in us. (The Book of Common Prayer's General Confession, 1928)
Every morning, I read about people murdered in the DFW-Metroplex – or the lives lost in suicide bombings, drone strikes, civil war – declared wars. The brief news accounts mark their passing – but never their substance or worth to the ones who loved them.
And who will – can -- right the wrongs that took these lives?
My hope, some might call a crutch -- is that every life lost today, for whatever reason, matters to God – that He will avenge and repay; that He will redeem the loss; and that He will comfort and console those who remain. (Psalm 102)
A respite: Dear Weary One
* Edward Gorey – Masterpiece Mystery