Civilized Murder–Caroline Graham’s Midsomer Murders

The amazing thing about the Midsomer Murder series is that the murders are all so civilized.

Midsomer murder mysteries are the creation of Caroline Graham and the stories all take place in English villages which are part of the county of Midsomer. Perhaps it’s the gentle setting of the English village with its lovely shops where riding one’s horse through village streets is an accepted pastime that adds to the atmosphere of civility.

Caroline Graham wrote seven books and then decided to stop writing the series. Five of the books were developed by British television for Midsomer Murders which has continued to produce more than 60 episodes based on the original characters.

What makes these mysteries so successful with a loyal following of both readers and television watchers? It’s the characters. They are a little odd, a little outside of the norm, but still believable. Miss Graham once said in an interview that her books are character,
not plot driven. Part of the intrigue in her books is that the murders often appear to be unrelated until the end when we learn of a hidden relationship between the various characters. Ms. Graham also stated that the characters, alive or dead, are the most important element of her stories.

Speaking of the dead–there is the matter of the murders. This apparently sweet English writer is not the least bit shy about murder. Victims are shot, stabbed, hanged, poisoned,
drowned and even beheaded to mention a few methods. And there is usually more than one murder in each story. In the first book The Killings at Badger’s Drift there are four murders, three suicides and an incestuous love affair.  In one of the television episodes, Death’s Shadow, the local vicar kills five people while continuing to perform his churchly duties. When the reverend is revealed he promptly commits suicide by jumping from the top of the church.

All these murders, while brutal, remain very civilized. After the victim is discovered, Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby and his sergeant arrive on the scene to solve the crime. Once they start the investigation, police procedures are carried out in a very orderly process. These
procedures and the sharp detecting skills of Barnaby eventually uncover the culprit.

But when the murderer is exposed there is no American style shoot-out or high speed car chase. The murderer admits to the crime and usually offers a polite confession. This confession may even occur over a nice cup of tea. Additionally, Barnaby while dealing with gruesome crimes has a very normal family life with wife Joyce and daughter Cully. Throughout the story we get a glimpse of his home life which provides a nice balance to the murder investigations.

The murders in Caroline Graham books appeal to the sense of the macabre within all mystery readers. We love a murder. And if there are two, three, or more murders I think we accept them because they occur in a civilized setting. Plus, when we finally hear the
confession the murders make perfect sense.

What lovely opposites! Brutal murders and odd characters all assembled in a pleasant English village with polite confessions. How very civilized!

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