First of all, in the unlikely event that my sister is reading this – happy birthday, Jan, and I’m sorry I’m such a rubbish sister that I haven’t been in touch lately. Will try to do better.
And now – Broadchurch.
Series Two came to a mostly satisfying conclusion on UK television a couple of nights ago, but don’t worry, in case it hasn’t arrived in the US yet, there won’t be any spoilers here. All I’m going to say is this: at the end, the very end, when the closing credits were rolling, the continuity announcer asked, a little wearily I thought, ‘What next for Hardy and Miller?’ And right at the very end, blazoned across the screen were the words BROADCHURCH WILL RETURN.
For goodness sake. What do they think it is, a Bond movie?
Broadchurch the first was brilliant. It offered a highly realistic insight into how highly realistic people in a highly realistic small town would react when life dropped one of its bombshells in their midst. Just to remind you it was fiction, the murderer was the least likely person, the one you would never have thought of suspecting – but hey, that happens too. Pyschopaths are charming; that nice guy on the radio has been abusing little girls all his life; the bank you trusted to keep your money safe has been supporting tax evaders; and don’t get me started on the politicians who are meant to look after our interests.
But I digress. It’s remarkably easy to do so when you start to look under the surface of the world. Back to Broadchurch. The problem with Broadchurch the first, of course, was that it proved an unexpected hit. It attracted huge viewing figures, which meant the TV companies could bump up the fees for advertising in the breaks. And when that happens they want more of the same.
Except Broadchurch the second wasn’t the same. It was... OK. I wanted to know what happened. I kept watching. But mostly this time we watched a recorded version, because it lacked the real-ness, the indefinable quality that drew you in first time around, and made you put off whatever else was on offer that night to make sure you watched it at the earliest opportunity. Me, anyway.
I feel the same about some books. Series fiction, I mean. Mainly the kind that’s set in a beautiful place, where the kind of violent stuff that makes good crime fiction is very rare and murder happens about twice a century. There seemed to be a trend for it a few years ago, which I suspect had a lot to do with hoping a TV company would take an interest because of the glorious landscape. Sometimes they did. Still do, in fact; Midsomer Murders lives on, even though Tom Barnaby has retired. (Sorry, is that a spoiler? I don’t know when Midsomer arrived in the US.)
Midsomer gets away with it, because it sends itself up ever so gently. But what about Shetland, based on Ann Cleeves’s wonderful Jimmy Perez series? She only ever planned four; she said herself, on several platforms at several crime conventions (I was there for at least two of them), that four was enough – after that it began to lose credibility. But TV got hold of it, and the rest is... not history, exactly, because it’s still going on, but you get the picture. There are now six, and I suspect that’s not the end of it.
Big city series work well, if only because crime happens in big cities, and if a few hundred cops are trying to keep several hundred thousand people safe, it goes wrong often enough to justify a book a year. More, if more than one author covers a city. But rural or small town series? Hm.
Yeah, OK, I know, I know. It’s fiction. It doesn’t really happen like that. It’s not real. But isn’t it meant to feel as if it is? And as for BROADCHURCH WILL RETURN. Why spoil a good thing? TV has a lot to answer for.