I watched two tv programmes about detectives over the weekend – both very different, but both fascinating.
The first, ‘A Very British Murder’ with historian Lucy Worsley, is a documentary series charting the history of British crime fiction, and our love of grisly murders and glamorous detectives. I missed the first episode, but caught the second, which focussed on the Victorian period in general and such sensational cases as the murder at Road Hill House (better known as the book and tv film ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’) in particular, on Saturday. And it was absolutely fascinating. Ms Worsley is staggeringly well-informed but also has a lightness of touch which puts the subject matter across in a really lively way, including dramatisations and re-creations in period costume. There were all sorts of facts and gobbets of information that I’d never come across before, and the whole thing was just, well, fascinating. Want to know why the first great detectives (like Whicher himself) lost popularity? Want to know why this helped to make Sherlock Holmes so important? Or what role Charles Dickens played in the whole thing? Then watch out for the repeats and set up your recorder because for anyone the least bit interested in British crime fiction this is one not to miss.
And then on Sunday I watched a detective show with a real difference – ‘Fake or Fortune’ – where experts tried to prove whether a painting was an unknown original work by a given artist, or a fake. This involves a tricky process of technical wizardry (checking paint samples and the warp-weft count of the canvas) and the sort of historical research that Sherlock Holmes himself would have been proud of. The result, in the first programme, was a fascinating dip into Parisian café culture in the 1920s and the work of the French Post-Impressionist artist Edouard Vuillard, which had a satisfyingly positive outcome. (Even the experts weren’t far from tears.) Later shows look as though they have less happy outcomes, but I’ll still be watching with baited breath.