Midsomer and Sainte Marie: Murder Central

Neil Dudgeon (right) as DCI John Barnaby and Gwilym Lee as DS Charlie Nelson in Midsomer Murders
Neil Dudgeon (right) as DCI John Barnaby and Gwilym Lee as DS Charlie Nelson in Midsomer Murders
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George Orwell wrote, in 1946, an essay called The Decline of the English Murder, in which he looked at some of the more celebrated cases of the previous 70 or so years, and isolated the elements they had in common, which made them essentially English.

The murderer, he wrote, “should be a little man of the professional class... living a respectable life somewhere in the suburbs”.

His motive would be to conceal “a guilty passion for his secretary or the wife of a rival professional man” and having decided to kill, writes Orwell, “he should plan it all with the utmost cunning, and only slip up over some tiny unforeseeable detail”.

More than 70 years later, the writers of Midsomer Murders (ITV, Wednesdays, 8pm) and Death in Paradise (BBC1, Thursdays, 9pm) still seem to take Orwell’s essay as a template for their plots.

Both shows, on the surface at least, are set in comfortable, cosy, John Lewis worlds – even Death in Paradise, set on a Caribbean island – has an English, white detective as its lead. Both use suburban, recognisable settings for the slayings, and the motive revealed is almost always love or sex.

This week, however, modern life intruded into the cosy worlds of Midsomer Norton and Sainte Marie. Lesbianism, UFO conspiracy theories, bodies dunked in a plastic resin – all featured in episodes with a body count big enough to spark an IPCC investigation.

The coppers – Midsomer’s DCI Barnaby and Paradise’s DI Goodman – both bumble about before revealing the murderer, usually the first person they talked to after discovering the body.

Perhaps it’s a tribute to the sturdiness of these shows that both these coppers are replacements for the original lead.

But perhaps it’s just that the viewers haven’t noticed – the scenery’s still lovely, the plots are still just complex enough, and the murders just keep coming, on one long, cadaver conveyor belt – who cares which star name solves them?

Orwell would be pleased, the English murder hasn’t gone completely out of fashion.