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'True crime' TV series always had too many loose ends for me – then I discovered Murder 24/7

BBC Two's Murder 24/7 offered something few other true crime series can
BBC Two's Murder 24/7 offered something few other true crime series can Credit: BBC

It has long baffled me that people look to “true crime” for entertainment. Why would you devote hours of your life to consuming unsolved mysteries? They’re so unsatisfying! The joy of crime fiction is the delivery of an answer to a riddle, the neat tying up of loose ends and a tidy resolution. It’s the same reason we love quiz shows, crosswords and jigsaw puzzles. We are comforted by the settling of order on chaos.

This was a quibble I had with BBC One’s recent Agatha Christie hit The Pale Horse2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app. It was a progressive, dark and scary adaptation, more Don’t Look Now than Poirot, with none of your jolly Miss Lemons or Captain Hastingses and no detective either. Avoiding spoilers (in case you are saving it up), its ending was mysterious, chilling and very like the conclusion of the horrifying Graham Greene short story The End of the Party.

Without a nice long drawing-room scene where an authority figure explains everything that happened, I was left with a few unanswered questions (“But why did he marry her?”, “What was the motive for poisoning those two at the end?”, “Is it just a coincidence he was having a thing with that other victim?”), and unanswered questions are the very real-world problem that a keen crime-fiction fan wants to escape.

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appIt was all very sumptuous and beautiful, though. My favourite character was Hermia Easterbrook who was like something out of Mad Men: terribly chic, prettily lit, always either smoking languorously or making a fabulous platter of canapés. In one startling moment, she watched a socialite tapping a fag directly on to the dining table and politely handed her a jade dish, while fantasising about smashing a vase over her head and screaming: “Use a f---ing ashtray, you b----!”

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app“That isn’t a clue she’s a killer,” muttered an anonymous media source through a mouthful of crisps. “That’s normal social interaction. It’s like that in my head all the time.”

Rufus Sewell and Kaya Scodelario as Mark and Hermia Easterbrook in The Pale Horse Credit: BBC

Anyway, I enjoyed the miniseries enormously while regretting the absence of a hand-holding detective to knot every last loose thread – just as I always assumed I would in the genre of “true crime”. Besides, how interesting can that genre be? True crime, in my experience, mainly involves a lot of time on hold to the police.

Only this week, I spent 26 minutes on hold to a department named (misleadingly, for me) “Fraud Action”. At 27 minutes I gave up. Not so much a hotline as a tepidline. I’ll try again tomorrow.

I don’t imagine the work of the Fraud Action department would make a great TV show. No doubt they spend their days saying: “Did it occur to you to wonder, Mrs Phillips, what your friend Mildred was doing up the Amazon? And how, deprived of all her money and luggage, she was able to contact you by email with her bank details?”

My own case is more interesting, I think, as it happened in the real world. A real person is pretending I drove my car into his motorbike and I’ve got seven days to buy him a new one. I think the police might rather enjoy investigating that. It’s quite easy: I’ve got witnesses and an address and everything. A real address, in London rather than cyberspace.

If I were a policeman, I would relish going to the garage mentioned in the letter and asking about all this damage they’ve traced to a crash that didn’t happen. I would visit when the mechanic was down in one of those holes in the ground and I would stand next to the car he was fixing, tapping one giant shoe on the floor above his head and saying “Might we have a word?” (I’d have to buy a pair of giant shoes, as my feet are quite small.)

Such were my reveries this week and, appetite thus whetted for procedure, I decided to tune in to BBC Two’s new true crime series Murder 24/7. This is a fly-on-the-wall documentary about homicide investigations in Essex. It’s the kind of thing I imagined appearing in the daytime on obscure satellite channels, not prime time on BBC Two. But perhaps that was only because of the title. There’s plenty of highbrow true crime about these days, aimed at the middle-class viewer: Making a Murderer on Netflix, The Jinx for HBO and many others following in their wake.

So perhaps “Murder 24/7” just sounds too urgent, insufficiently contemplative for the BBC Two evening crowd. Also, doesn’t that title rather presuppose guilt? The police are only starting with a corpse, after all. They should really change the title so as not to prejudice any trials. I suggest “Grisly Hour”, “Stabby Stabby” or “Who Done That Then?”.

However, to my surprise, I really liked it. It wasn’t beautiful and there was quite a lot of waiting around (albeit not quite as dull as being on hold telephonically), but there was a proper resolution! Rather magically, they had full camera coverage from the very beginning of an investigation that reached court, trial and verdict only three weeks ago. So it was both narratively satisfying and totally fresh.

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appIt’s an oddly scheduled series: three episodes were broadcast this week and two follow next week. That recent case was resolved halfway through episode three and we stopped half an hour into a new one. I suspect the programme-makers intended it to be stripped over a week and are feeling very frustrated.

But TV scheduling is the greatest mystery of all.