Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Murder before Bedtime

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 10th February, 2018

SpiralIt’s interesting how different people choose their own routine before going to bed at night. For some, it’s a glass of whisky, for others reading a few pages of a novel. But for me there is one thing above all that settles me, preparing me for a good night’s sleep — a good murder mystery. In Britain we have been well served on that front of late, with several TV channels screening detective stories, usually at 9pm or later; BBC4 has notably established a tradition of broadcasting a two-hour session of a continental who-done-it on a Saturday night. Series 6 of the French drama Spiral has just finished and tonight we can savour the first two episodes of the second series of Sweden’s Modus. BBC iPlayer even has box sets available sometimes; last night I binged on the last three episodes of the rather weird and bloody supernatural drama Requiem before heading off to sleep. What’s striking is how complex some of the scenarios of murder series are these days, highlighting not just the disturbed psychological state of killers but also the often dysfunctional personal lives of detectives, too. Midsomer Murders (reportedly a great favourite of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel) is more chocolate-boxy on that front, as well as in its choice of idyllic English rural settings — though the idyll is repeatedly shown up as an illusion by the carnage going on behind the scenes, often multiple bodies in each programme. Which brings me to the question: why do grisly murder stories appeal, especially late at night? The standard psychological explanation is that they are a way of assuaging our anxieties (especially for women, apparently). And the same is true for the genre in books. We are witnesses experiencing vicariously some of our worst fears or dreams being acted out, but are then able to retreat to our safe beds strangely calmed. So, yes, in a way fictional murder before bedtime is a type of therapy — though an addictive one at that.

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One Response to “Murder before Bedtime”

  1. Phil Beesley said

    Blame the Danes! Hans Christian Andersen, writing long before Scandinavian Noir.

    JF: “What’s striking is how complex some of the scenarios of murder series are these days…”

    I recently had a binge on the TV works of P D James. I found it fascinating and appalling. And the stories are complex — enough for six episodes rather than the obligatory dozen episode series of today. Why 12 episodes — why aren’t writers permitted to tell more short stories?

    I was appalled by the P D James adaptations because they failed to represent society which existed at the time. Those posh people sorting out the thick or deferential working classes. Working class people are portrayed as fools.

    Class/wealth privilege is part of Scandi Noir but there is nothing better than a Midsomer Murder to remind us that we’ll never buy a house like that. Unless our partner passes unexpectedly..,

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