books, britain, mystery, some of my favorites, television

Sad Detectives

Endeavour: so sad. (via)

Thank you for all your good wishes on my last post! It’s been a whirlwind around here, full of classes and rearranging furniture and counting down the last few weeks before school. And I’m suddenly realizing that we only have 7 (7!) weeks left before the baby’s due date. So while we’ve been accumulating books for that little library like crazy, I’ve also been attacking my TBR list with gusto. Because who knows how much reading I’ll get done after the Blueberry arrives?

9780062220608I just finished Journey to Munichthe latest entry in Jacqueline Winspear’s excellent Maisie Dobbs series, which follows a British lady detective/psychologist between the wars. Winspear puts Maisie through the emotional wringer in this series: after letting go of her shell-shocked and incapacitated fiance, she finds new love and finally agrees to marry him after books and books of dancing around each other. But just as they’re eagerly anticipating the birth of their first child and a new chapter in their lives, he’s killed in an aviation accident, and Maisie loses the baby. This was brutal to read. In Journey to Munich, it’s a high-stakes undercover operation that finally encourages Maisie to dive back into detective work. And while it was just as satisfying, if not more so, than some of the previous installments, I noticed a trend in my own interests this time around. Which is:

I like sad detectives.

While I care for Maisie as a character and agonize for her when her personal life implodes (which is does in a spectacular way), she’s just so much more interesting when her cases help her work through those emotional problems. She uses her work to avoid thinking about issues, or by contrast, the danger of her cases force her to acknowledge the pain she’s dealing with. In Journey to Munich, she realizes that she wants to survive and make it back to England, to live and work in a way that her husband could not.

In fact, almost all my favorite mystery series, both books and TV, feature sad detectives. There are my dark Scandinavian mysteries by Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbø, which focus on policemen who get far too invested in their cases to the detriment of their personal lives. Then there are, as Josh calls them, my “sad British detective hunks:” Sidney Chambers of Grantchester, who mopes his way through the fifties by listening to jazz and yearning for his lost love, and Endeavour Morse of Endeavour, who mopes his way through the sixties by listening to opera and yearning for any pretty girl who crosses his path.

I like happy detectives, too, but there’s a distinct difference: the stories with happy detectives inevitably focus only on the mystery, while the stories with sad detectives use the mystery to plumb the depths of their characters. And I think it’s that character development that keeps me coming back to the gloomy sleuths. They’re more complex, giving the reader more to consider, and that ultimately makes them more satisfying.


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