‘People were consumed by the court trials of the day and reading about the gruesome deaths, poisonings and even the subsequent hangings of the perpetrators of the heinous deeds in question.’
I’M getting increasingly fed up of hearing and reading about gangland crime and feud related murders that seem all too prevalent in Ireland these days. That said, a world away from the stark reality of criminality, it’s blatantly obvious that many of us love fictional crime and we just can’t seem to get enough of it. Flick through your telly channels any day or night of the week and you will stumble upon a detective story or three, not to mention the endless crime dramas and real life unsolved murder mysteries and documentaries. We seem to have quite the appetite for devious murder plots and grizzly killings in all their chilling horror.
This is far from exclusive to 2019 audiences and readers and a TV show I watched recently peaked my interest in delving in to the murky, yet enticing world of crime fiction. The rather wonderful Lucy Worsley examined the origins of the crime novel in a three-part series and uncovered a wealth of interesting facts about murderous villains and villainesses, long since dead. Did you know for example that the legendary scribe Charles Dickens regularly tagged along with police officers on the beat to observe their work at apprehending all sorts of villainy? Indeed his infamous character from Oliver Twist, the frighteningly evil Bill Sykes, was based on his observances of some of the cases he coat tailed on with the Bobbies.
Long before Columbo or Inspector Morse, it’s interesting to note that in 1934, for example, about one-eighth of all books published were crime novels. People were consumed by the court trials of the day and reading about the gruesome deaths, poisonings and even the subsequent hangings of the perpetrators of the heinous deeds in question.
Growing up, I loved watching fictional detective legends like Lieutenant Columbo and, to this day, I watch him every so often on the repeats shown on Sunday afternoons on at least two channels. Crumpled overcoat, mild mannered, inoffensive, but possessing a razor sharp brain, his character probably attracted many fans to him. Always polite, he even seemed to be genuinely impressed by the ingenuity of some of the murderers he eventually uncovered and arrested. It was also great for the viewer in that we knew ‘whodunnit’ from the start.
There were others. Whether private eyes or thick necked cops; Canon, Mannix, Jim Rockford, Kojak, Banacek, and Barnaby Jones are among those most prominent to me. All TV shows that you just lapped up week after week, waiting for that fateful moment when the bad guy was finally nabbed and his fiendish plot dismantled or at least unearthed after the event.
Today, barely a week goes by without Midsomer Murders being shown. Everyone it seems finds a ‘whodunnit’ irresistible. To highlight the popularity of the noble art of detection work there is also now a plethora of forensic based documentaries explaining how evidence nailed killers that years ago would most likely have gotten away with their foul deeds. They might be a little heavy on the stomach but tremendously fascinating nonetheless.
Having thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Lucy’s excellent programmes, I decided to revisit the crime fiction genre and get back to the books. What better way to start than opening one with a Waterford connection. I duly got stuck into the classic novel “Farewell My Lovely” featuring the renowned hard boiled gumshoe, Philip Marlowe. A mystery from Raymond Chandler who of course was of Waterford parentage and is rightly honoured in our city via Blue Plaques erected by the Waterford Civic Trust.
His mother, Florence Thornton, was born in Waterford in 1861. When her marriage went sour, she came back to Waterford with Raymond in 1900. Chandler spent time here in his youth and returned on a number of occasions for summer holidays at John’s Hill. Rumour has it that at one time he planned to base one of his stories here, a potentially seismic event which sadly never came to pass.
Imagine if down the line, the inevitable movie was filmed here? Humphrey Bogart eating a blaa perhaps as he interrogated a beautiful femme fatale, possibly from the Dunmore Road? The mind boggles at what might have been. Think of the potential for tourism. In fact I suggest it’s still not too late to make more of the Chandler link.
The action in Chandler’s books and subsequent movies is very engaging. It’s all tough guys, dames and darkly lit, dingy barrooms where you could get slugged at any minute for asking too many questions. Absolutely wonderful dialogue too. Take this for example from the aforementioned tome, “Cute little redhead,” she said slowly and thickly. “Yeah, I remember her. Song and dance. Nice legs and generous with ’em”.
You gotta love this stuff. When men were men and women were deadly.
I also want to have a go at reading some of Dashiel Hammet and some of the other vintage crime fiction bigwigs, but there’s only so much time. Agatha Christie instantly springs to mind but there are several other lesser lights who might well be worth curling up on the sofa with on a cold night this winter. Back to the present day, most of you are probably aware that the celebrated Irish writer John Banville writes crime stories under a pseudonym, Benjamin Black.
Here again, I might find some of the current crop every bit as riveting. As long as it’s not too close to home. I get enough of that on the Six One news. It’s that time thing again. In fact, I have to go now, the kettle is boiled and I want to get to the end of Marlowe’s escapade. It’s amazing the big lug is still in one piece. Such a shame he never got round to that Waterford based adventure.
Timmy Ryan’s weekly column for the Waterford News & Star