I don’t think I’m alone in discovering via covid a whole new range of TV fodder. More than ever in my life, stripped of my evening activities, I’ve been watching all kinds of detective series. One stands out: “Murder In . . . ” Each episode is placed in a specific French town, with its different detectives and constabularies. The episodes are not formulaic “Who-Dun-Its.” Each dives into the culture and history of a particular French village with its surrounding natural landscape.
The locale and its inhabitants are every bit as important as unraveling a crime-puzzle. It can seem we’re tourists on holiday with a special host, meeting villagers in pairs or singly, folk out on their farms or at the village pub or in the schoolyard waiting for the kids to get out.
The title, “Murder in. . . ” puts the emphasis on “IN.” It’s all about place. This sets it apart.
It’s not original to have landscape play a role in detective series. Think of “Shetland,” set beautifully on the islands. What’s original here is having the village and its characters be more than background. They assume an importance independent of the murder investigation.
This particular “Murder In . . .” is set in the village of Colmar (season 7). Here, we meet a surgeon who has abandoned his family and country to travel the world as a medical missionary. He comes to Colmar (“Murder in Colmar”) to find out more about the death of his son.
His becomes an unofficial investigator. He works on the case tagging along with the official village detectives — often getting in their way. His skill in tracking the cause of disease equips him to track the cause of his son’s death. The local detectives, especially at first, see him as mainly meddling.
A highlight of the drama is his getting to meet and know his six year old grandson. The growing cross-generational relationship attains a warmth and interest of its own, quite apart from the police investigation. In fact, as the story wound down, I realized I was less interested in the death of the father than in the growing affection of grandfather and grandson.
The incredible warmth of the grandfather as he comes to know and love his grandson gets center stage. The older man radiates good will, affection, and imagination in bridging the gap as he enters the world of his grandson.
As the police drama winds down, this affectionate connection across generations upstages all else. Quite apart from the solution to a crime, the story becomes a love story, rich in detail and modes of affection.