The Farm on Oak Creek

Back to Work

The farm is on the market, the house is so clean you really could eat off my floor, and my neighbors keep stopping by to tell me that the grounds look immaculate. This leads me to wonder just how bad it was before the clean-up started. Yikes.  At any rate, the point of this is that there’s nothing left to keep me from returning to the computer and my present work-in-progress.  Not even my foot, which is healing nicely, thank you all.

So today I opened the file for “The Final Toll”…and was immediately distracted by the reality that there were things I hadn’t completed with my previous book.  But at least I did something other than sweep floors and rake up manure.

Even though I wasn’t writing over these past few months, I was definitely thinking about writing.  As it turned out, I learned something really important about the mystery genre.  I didn’t learn it from a class, or seminar, or webinar, or any other “nar.” I learned it from watching BritBox, an Amazon subscription channel.

Once again and for the record, I don’t own a television.  Instead, when I want to watch something I fire up my iPad, which I can carry with me as I move from room to room. One of the reasons I don’t have a television is that I’m incapable of sitting still long enough to watch a complete episode of anything. I’m on the move at the first commercial, cleaning, folding, sweeping, whatever. The iPad is perfect for me. I perch it on the dresser or counter and listen while I work.

These last two months my background noise has been a stream of British television sleuths, most of them taken from successful British mystery novel series.  I guess I’ve been trying to maintain the mindset of a mystery writer while off-duty.

I started with the classics, Miss Marple and Poirot. By Season 4 I was picking holes in the mysteries, noting red herrings that weren’t explained, clues that were ignored, and inconsistencies in Poirot’s character–he goes on a cruise to Greece or Egypt (it wasn’t really said) one season and hates sea travel the next.  Or maybe he hates sea travel because of his experience on that cruise in the first season. Before you Agatha Christie lovers muster for the attack, I’ll remind you that these were her books remade for television.  I’ve actually never read an Agatha Christie novel–I don’t like to read in a genre that I write–so I can’t say if this is her fault or the TV writer’s adaptation.

After that, I stumbled upon Endeavor, which, it turned out, was the precursor to another series, Inspector MorseEndeavor is set in the late 50s/early 60s and the sleuth is a quirky, opera-loving, Oxford-educated Inspector in the Oxford police force. At the same time I discovered another precursor series, Tennison, which is Helen Mirren’s character in Prime Suspect as whatever it is they call female constables. Like Endeavor, it’s set in the 60s/early 70s, which may explain why both of these caught my eye. The 60s and 70s were my salad days, as it were.

I liked the precursors more than the originals. I’ve heard people rave about Prime Suspect and Inspector Morse, but both of them left me unsatisfied. That they did actually kept me watching. I was into Season Three of both series when I suddenly remembered John D MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels. Those books were my introduction to the concept of a red shirt, that nameless Enterprise crewman in security detail you know is going to be dead by the end of the episode. In the case of MacDonald’s hero Travis, it was his latest girlfriend who became fodder for one of his enemies or some serial killer.

That had me giggling each time I watched Morse make a move on the woman du jour, knowing she was either going to die or turn out to be the murderer. And that took me back to Angela Landsbury as Jessica Fletcher. I swear Cabot Cove had the highest murder rate in the nation, and frankly Jessica is the line between the dots.  I still think she did most of those murders and framed the one she accused.

The same sort of thing was happening with Helen Mirren’s Jane Tennison and her potential mates, only hers always left in a huff because she put her career over him, something none of Travis’s girls ever thought to do. And the times they are a changin’!

That revelation ended my interest in both series. That said, I did note that today’s morés allow both Endeavor and the new Jane Tennison to be far more vulnerable than their originals, and that was interesting in itself.  There were a few cozy Cabot Cove-esque series, the most enjoyable being The Coroner, set somewhere on the coast of Devon I think. After that, I moved onto a new-to-me series A Touch of Frost, about DI Jack Frost.

I’ve made it through Season 3 when I realized it bored me. Why? There are no red shirts in this series. That had me pondering again. I mean, what’s not to like about a graying, middle class police inspector who knows all the town miscreants by their first names?

What I realized is why I’m writing this today as I return to creating another mystery novel of my own. None of these sleuths, not even Agatha Christie’s, grow over the course of their experiences. Because they don’t change, because they continue to make the same personal mistakes again and again, they lose my respect.

Huh, I really am writing again. Now if only the farm would sell so I can resettle. For aesthetic reasons my desk is now next to the chest freezer in the corner of what should be the new kitchen. I don’t like writing in the corner.  Sigh.


© Denise Domning, 2023