We did get to Guernsey, for four delicious days. We walked on the cliff path, explored old haunts, found one or two new ones, watched a sunset, walked some more, ate far too many scrumptious things that weren’t at all good for us and came home yesterday feeling relaxed and recharged. I love Guernsey.
Something else I did was indulge in a long catch-up chat with a friend who lives there, and today’s post comes out of that conversation, albeit in an oblique kind of way.
She’s working on a project that relies heavily on her knowledge of Guernsey, which is encyclopaedic and all-enveloping. And talking about it with her made me think about the way so many TV crime dramas rely on evoking the place in which they’re set and the particular characteristics of the people who live there.
It became something of a cliché for British crime writers a decade or so ago: set your series in a beautiful place and selling it for TV serialization will be a doddle.
Midsomer Murders, based in a kind of generic Cotswold village location, is still going strong, even though it hasn’t had much to do with Caroline Graham’s novels since the first series. Wycliffe, set on the stunningly beautiful Cornish coast, pops up regularly on satellite channels, dated by the huge monitors on the computers and the brick-sized mobile phones. I’ve never seen one of W J Burley’s novels even in the library, but he gets a credit on every episode.
And of course there’s Morse and his spinoff Lewis, set among the ancient dreaming spires of Oxford with its conveniently ever-changing population of students and academics.
There’s even a Morse walking tour now, taking in the picturesque city centre locations the cameras lapped up.
I’ll probably be shot down in flames, or possibly sued, for saying this, but I do wonder if the books would have gained the fame and fortune they did without the TV adaptations. Moving pictures on the TV have a way of getting inside your head and making you come back for more, especially when they’re counterpointed by murder and mayhem in the plot.
That said, creating those pictures in words on the page is a talent some authors have in abundance. I’ve just finished reading a mystery set in the Dordogne (south-west France for the benefit of geographically challenged blog-followers), and I really felt as if I was there. And when I extrapolated on that thought, I began to wonder if one reason I can’t get along with Scandinavian crime fiction is that the authors are too damn good at getting it right; they make it feel so grey and depressing that I simply don’t want to know!
I’m conscious that, aside from the above para, I’ve focused on British crime writers and locations here. That’s because all the examples I could think of of novels turned into picturesque TV series happened to be British. And also because I know them better than their American equivalents: certainly not because America lacks beautiful places. Or writers who set crime novels in them; Tony Hillerman is well represented on my bookshelves, and a certain E J Copperman has introduced me to the Jersey Shore, which I plan to visit one of these fine years.
So now we come to the point I’ve been leading to. I may have said this before, so apologies if I’m repeating myself, but what worries me a little about gory crime set in beautiful places is the credibility factor. It was with a sharp intake of breath that I saw that Ann Cleeves, one of my favourite Brit crime writers, had been persuaded to write a fifth Shetland novel. I heard Ann speak about the Shetland Quartet several times, and she always said that crime in general and murder in particular is so rare in the Shetland islands that even four books pushed credibility a little far. And now there’s a fifth. Will there be a sixth, seventh and eighth? Do I hear the rattle of shekels in the counting house? Who said publishing was run by accountants?
Enough for now, lest I use my soapbox as a ladder to climb on my high horse.