Suspending our disbelief—that’s what Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge said we have to be willing to do when we read fiction. Nowhere is that more clearly demonstrated than in British detective TV shows.
We stream and love them all: “Morse” “Lewis,” Inspector Lynley,” “Tennison,” “Prime Suspect,” and what is probably the best and not actually British, “Bosch.”
But at face value the settings are preposterous in terms of realism. The “Morse” series is set in Oxford in Britain. Here, as in all of the detective thrillers, a murder occurs every week or so.
It is dangerous to walk the towpath by the river in Oxford; fiends lurk in the bushes and there’s murder on their minds no matter what season of the year. Another towpath murder? Just can’t keep track.
And nobody seems to say in “Inspector Lynley,” “Why is it there are so many murders in this area?” “Why is it wherever you go, even on vacation, there’s a killing happening?”
No, we suppress our rational self, subordinate it to the joys of following the interesting plot and gazing at the beautiful scenery of the British countryside, admiring the lovely country homes from the Edwardian period and getting engaged in the tangled and well-thought-out story-telling which often has disaffected employees, spouses, work associates you never dreamed with hurt a flea hiding their crimes and needing to be exposed to justice with only five minutes left in the show to wrap everything up.
The road to addiction with these detective stories has led us recently on Amazon Prime to Brokenwood Mysteries, a series set in a medium-sized country town in New Zealand about the size of Terre Haute twenty years ago.
It’s a laugh realistically. In the first place, why is any town called Brokenwood? How odd.
Perhaps because it was a “break” in the woodlands of this part of New Zealand? And that flash shot of the town set in the hills by a river—there can’t be more than 1,000 homes and offices shown. How can such a small town generate so darn many murders—let alone all the fascinating (and I mean it) avocations and situations these people live in. Here in Brokenwood we have the following settings for the murders (which are usually not gruesome). A deer hunting club, drama group, a duck hunting club, a golf course, a tour based on Lords of the Rings sites, an Edwardian reenactment society, a carnival which winters over there, a gourmet cheese factory, a duck egg farm, a woman’s prison–and lots more. And why do the same people show up at every murder scene, participate in every interesting activity shown? The stock characters: the older lady who bakes things and takes them to every event, where she can background the detectives on the private life of the suspects—the little guy named Frodo who seems to have his food truck parked at every murder, the slick handsome suitor, the Maui vintner.
If these blatantly implausible things lurk around the edges of this series of mysteries, why is we are watching, avidly? Here’s why: because one gets the flavor of the countryside of New Zealand watching this series. We can search the horizon for maples and oaks. Not a one. Instead, Google tells us, those towering, scraggly looking evergreens and branchy, Halloween-looking soft or hardwoods, are called Kohai, Puriri, Cabbage Tree, Rimu and Kowri. Interesting!
And, more importantly, the characters are absolutely charming and compel repeated scrutinizing. Mike Shepherd, the lead detective with four ex-wives, Detective Sam Breen, the red-haired inspector whose clever, smarty repartee keeps everybody hopping and best of all, the female detective inspector Detective Kristin Sims, played by Fern Sutherland, one of New Zealand’s most talented actresses. Minor characters like Mrs. Marlowe, whom we mentioned before, turn up at every corner of the town with inside information that’s believable from her long career of town snooping and the town minister, who is a man of many talents and whose life is a mess.
Following their private lives, sensing the inner dynamics, enjoying clever and intellectually stimulating plotting—all make for a drama worth seeing, streaming, and sitting enthralled to find out “Who Dunnit,” We are hooked and so, apparently, were the world-wide audience who watched 7 seasons of the small town with the many murders, set among those scraggly-looking trees of New Zealand.