Murder Most English: The Great British Crime Shows

Not too long ago, a reporting assignment had me digging into murder rates around the world. Somehow, I Googled my way to the news that murders are up a bit in the U.K. And before I could say “from fact to fiction,” I found myself mysteriously sucked onto my couch, the victim of a merry olde murder binge that may never end.

Shows like “Sherlock” and “Killing Eve” already had their hooks in me. And a few years back, I’d fallen hard for “Happy Valley” and its delightfully offbeat Yorkshire accents.

But how had I missed “Broadchurch,” with the impossible-to-understand Alec Hardy and the lovely long shots of the Dorset coast? Or “Shetland,” which made me a) almost book a trip to the Scottish islands and b) finally figure out how to turn on subtitles on my TV?

After I worked my way through “Unforgotten,” set in the south of England, where people are mercifully easy to understand, I fell into “Hinterland,” set in Aberystwyth, Wales. (Is that even English they’re speaking?) And while I haven’t waded into the brand-new “Dublin Murders” on BBC 1, the reviews are so promising, I can’t wait to start.



These shows deliver — and on many levels.

Besides the tourism-boosting scenery, they’ve got moody sleuths that make the predictable roster of pedophiles (sorry, I mean paedophiles), jealous boyfriends and unhinged psychopaths seem unexpected and even original.

By comparison, America’s offerings — from the formulaic procedurals to the most ambitious ones, like “True Detective” — seem flat.

That brings me back to those puzzling statistics. While the murder rate is creeping up in the U.K., and at its highest level in a decade, it’s still quite low ,at about 1.2 per 100,000, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

If you’re looking for a comparison, that makes England safer than America, with a murder rate of about 5 per 100,000. And it’s almost infinitely more secure than countries like crime-riddled South Africa (34 per 100,000) or El Salvador (83 per 100,000.) Put another way, the U.K. is only slightly more dangerous than some of the world’s safest countries, such as Japan (0.28 murders per 100,000) and Norway (0.5 per 100,000.)

Apparently, there is not much correlation between real crimes and the number of crime shows a country cranks out­­. Our obsession with murder has everything to do with the human psyche and nothing to do public-safety statistics.

But I am asking why one country has gotten way more than its fair share of murderous imagination. Why did the universe sprinkle so many crime writers, atmospheric locations and gloomy directors in one place?

I’m not saying it’s a culture obsessed with death. In fact, the U.K.’s top-rated shows include “The Great British Bakeoff,” “I’m a Celebrity,” “Strictly Come Dancing,” “the Bodyguard” and “Call The Midwife.”

But I am saying that if the invention of gripping murders and hard-working sleuths ever becomes an Olympic sport, America’s got a lot of catching up to do.

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