Sue Limb: A murder mystery

PUBLISHED: 11:55 07 April 2015 | UPDATED: 11:55 07 April 2015

I’ve discovered a new enthusiasm in my later years: it’s murder

I’ve discovered a new enthusiasm in my later years: it’s murder


Morse’s lady love often turns out to be the victim, or occasionally the killer, or sometimes she will commit suicide, depressed at the impossibility of becoming Mrs Morse

I’ve discovered a new enthusiasm in my later years: it’s murder. Not as a participant, although I could cheerfully murder certain fictional characters: Rob Titchener in The Archers, for example. And I have been known to exterminate lily beetles, though I always apologise.

An addiction to whodunnits runs in the family. My mother’s bedside table was never without a paperback sporting a dagger on the cover. I’m so squeamish and cowardly, just seeing a picture of a dagger made my hair stand on end in terror. But now it’s been creeping up on me. Creeping up on me? - Help! There goes my hair again!

I dipped my toe in the water with Miss Marple - the Joan Hickson version, obviously. It was the sunlit glimpses of 1950s St Mary Mead which lured me in: Morris Minors, the village green… OK, murder did happen, but the victims usually had the taste to get murdered decorously, perhaps in a fine Georgian vicarage. Pills were smuggled into their cocoa by a charming professor, or they were gently strangled by an artistic lesbian.

The genre captivated me: the setting in the past seemed cosy and reassuring, and Marple herself became a role model, peering over her glasses and analyzing human motivation whilst knitting matinee jackets. Her frequent aside, ‘I’ve been preternaturally stupid,’ has become my motto – only in my case it’s true.

Currently I am discovering Morse. When it was first on, somehow I only caught glimpses of it – morsels of Morse – but I recently acquired the box set and now I’m hooked. There are 33 episodes available – one for every year of Jesus’s life – though I suspect that may be a red herring.

There are enough red herrings in Morse to open a delicatessen in Stockholm. As with Marple, the setting is beguiling. Oxford is quietly and complacently being magnificent in the background, and Morse’s taste for grand classical music makes the whole thing purr along like a Rolls Royce. Although I still have to avert my eyes from the gory bits. I’m the sort of person who drives slowly past road accidents and looks the other way.

John Thaw’s pale handsome face with its cold blue eyes are perfect for TV, but unlike Marple, Morse is fallible. He gets things wrong, his default emotional mode is grumpy, and he has a fatal susceptibility to female beauty. I enjoy spotting the beautiful woman, usually on the cusp of middle age, who will light his fire. But of course she can’t be allowed to get past first base. (What is first base, by the way? Not all that base, presumably.) Because Morse must remain a lonely bachelor.

So Morse’s lady love often turns out to be the victim, or occasionally the killer, or sometimes, just for a bit of extra spice, she will commit suicide, understandably depressed at the impossibility of becoming Mrs Morse or even just a regular date.

I watch the interminable episodes late at night, after my chap has fallen asleep on the sofa, and to keep things peaceful I have the sound turned down to a gentle murmur and the subtitles on.

But what I really need are subtitles which would give me even the faintest idea of the plot. Because though I love whodunnits, I never have a clue who has dunnit. Indeed, even when the denouement has been reached and it’s all explained, I can only echo Byron’s comment on Coleridge’s attempts to explain Metaphysics: “I wish he would explain his explanation”.

So why do I enjoy whodunnits so much? It’s a mystery.


This article by Sue Limb is from the April 2015 issue of Cotswold Life

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