I’m fussy when it comes to mysteries. I don’t like them told in the 3rd person. Although I’m okay with limited 3rd person, as in The Maltese Falcon where we basically have Spade’s point of view. I don’t like cozies. They’re unrealistic. Police procedurals aren’t my cup of tea either. Basically I like private eye novels told in the 1st person, preferably by the “Watson”, and where the PI is somewhat quirky or idiosyncratic. The oddest thing, perhaps, about my fussiness with mysteries is I’m not at all interested in the puzzle. I don’t really care if the writer played “fair” or not. I’m interested in the characters. How they interact with the suspects, law enforcement, their partners, and life.
Public television’s Masterpiece Mystery recently concluded a six-part series entitled Grantchester, based on novels by James Runcie. They involve an Anglican priest working with a local police detective to solve murders. That’s the old stuff. What makes Grantchester a success for me are the characters and the time period.
The 1950s (when I was a wee lad) was a complex decade. The Cold War and the fear of nuclear devastation. A time where television began pushing aside radio and movie theaters and sounded the death knell of pulp magazines. A time of the proliferation of labor saving devices in the home, which gave women more time and eventually led to them being able to work outside the home. The ‘50s saw a revival of Victorian prudery which set the stage for the sexual revolution of the ‘60s. Rock and roll began in the ‘50s. There was also a curious mix of optimism and pessimism, not unlike in the ‘30s. I am still waiting for my flying car. It was a complex time and is a great setting for a mystery series.
The characters are well-drawn and interesting people. Even the minor characters are delightful and full of quirks. Canon Sidney Chambers and Inspector Geordie Keating, the main characters, have both served in World War 2. The series addresses coping with the horror of war in a time when PTSD was unheard of and former soldiers were expected to just get on with their lives. Drinking to excess, overwork, nightmares, relationship problems plague our heroes. One gets the impression they are coping, but not necessarily in an overall positive manner.
The mix of setting and characters is so good I don’t really care “whodunit”. I’m satisfied to find out when Sidney and Geordie do. The puzzle doesn’t matter. For me, that is okay. And because the series is so good, I now want to buy the novels. Apparently, others have been taken with the show because it looks as though it will get a second season.
If you’ve seen Grantchester or read the books, chime in and let us know what you think. Also welcome are your thoughts on the mystery genre: is there room for mysteries where the puzzle isn’t important.Share This!