57 minus 53: Who & How?

Posted: 25 June 2021 in 57 minus, blogging, fiction, whodunnit
Tags: , , ,

Housekeeping note: I feel like I need to apologise upfront for this one. I’ve found it a tad harder than I expected to keep on topic as I’ve restarted blogging. I’ll try to do better in future. Sorry.

 

Writings about Journalism sometimes say that reporters (and yes, I know that reporters and journalists are different jobs, but give me that one, ok? I didn’t didn’t want to write journalism &journalists in the same sentence and now I’ve done it and I hate myself and I hate all of you for making me write this explanation.)

Where was I?

Oh yes, writings about journalism sometimes say that… sigh… journalists… ask The Five Questions when investigating and writing a story: Who, Where, What, When, Why? There’s a reason, however, this post is titled differently.

This one will be about Who and How.

Why?

OK, who and how and why.

It’s always dangerous to make a prediction. Whether it’s about a general election or even about how long a post on this thing will be, it’s a mug’s game. That doesn’t stop me making guesses, of course, nor even writing posts about predictions… and I’ve even written after an election about some of what I got wrong in those predictions. Not everything of course; I didn’t want it to be a thirty-seven part opus.

So, yes, predicting stuff is always leaving yourself I open to make a fool of yourself, so it’s not hugely encouraged.

James Burke, that wonderful explainer of connections in the past, has said on several occasions that he’s often asked why he, given his appreciation of how thinks connect together, doesn’t make predictions about the future. He usually gives two answers. First, his belief that while some discoveries were always likely to happen – if this person hadn’t discovered This Thing, someone else probably would have, sooner or later – many discoveries or scientific theories very much aren’t.

Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, for example. Many were working on similar things, and it’s likely that sooner or later, someone would have come up with it. His General Theory, however, with its suggested consequences and relevant proposals? It’s a toss up whether it would ever had been discovered. Some discoveries and inventions are serendipitous, and rarely is anything inevitable.

Burke’s second reason is more blunt, and likely more honest: he likes to be right, and he doesn’t like to be wrong. He’s rarely extrapolated and predicted. I mean, they’re always fascinating when he does predict, but the predictions themselves have to be taken with every caveat known to mind and a few that you have to invent especially for the purpose.

So, again, predicting is a mug’s game, a fool’s endeavour, an idiot’s quest.

Except in one circumstance. There’s one situation where a prediction is overtly expected, actively anticipated… in fact, it’s positively encouraged.

Whodunnits.

Murder mysteries. Private eye tales, detective stories.

You watch, or read, a murder mystery. And, in the absence of a Columbo-type story format¹, the author, the tv director, wants you to play along, to try to guess who committed the murder, who kidnapped the victim.

Note to self: do a ‘Ten Columbo episodes Budgie likes’ at some point during this run.)

Oh, and whether the baddie will be found guilty or not if your’e watching a drama about a criminal trial. I’ll add that because I’ve kind of gotten hooked on re-runs of Law & Order² during the last year’s various lockdowns.

Note to self: also do a couple of ‘Ten Law & Order episodes & working partnerships Budgie likes’ at some point during this run.)

Unlike lots of genres, I can’t remember when I started liking whodunnits, or what the first whodunnit was that I enjoyed, nor even what hooked me on that type of mystery. Whereas I know when I got into sf, and which western I enjoyed as a kid, and even why I enjoyed Skippy, The Bush Kangaroo but never really took to Flipper, I don’t have clue when it comes to whodunnits and crime.

But whodunnits have always been around in my life. I recall enjoying watching them with my older brother, and usually getting the answer wrong. I’d miss clues and never correctly guess who the villain was. But that was ok, I discovered. There was no harm, no foul in getting the answer wrong. In later years, I started to appreciate that it was kind of a compliment to the writer, not being able to guess the murderer. It meant they’d done their job as far as I was concerned. They set up red herrings and other possible baddies and I wasn’t smart enough to detect who the real one was.

But I loved whodunnits. I loved discovering these detectives, usually people I’d want to solve murders but also people in whose company I’d never want to spend time. I mean, how the hell could you remain friends with Nero Wolfe? Mike Hammer would dislike me intensely, I always suspected. And Lord Peter Wimsey wouldn’t think that much of me either. I wasn’t even sure I’d like Watson as a person, let alone Holmes. But was pretty sure neither of them would be eager to spend time in my company.

But I remember discovering Poirot, and Perry Mason, and Phillip Marlowe, and Lew Archer. And I devoured their tales. But at no point do I recall them being the first of the genre I’d encountered.

And on tv, a slew of private eye shows, and police detective dramas and defence lawyer shows where they’d always show (or attempt to) that their client was innocent.

Yeah, that always slightly bugged me. I realised early on that ‘not guilty’ didn’t mean ‘innocent’. And I occasionally wonder how much of an influence legal dramas had upon vast swathes of the viewing public, teaching them – incorrectly – that ‘not guilty’ means ‘they didn’t do it’ instead of the more accurate ‘the prosecution couldn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they did’. A US lawyer friend occasionally rails against the media reporting that someone ‘got away with it on a technicality’. He maintains there’s no such thing. If someone, under the law as it stands, can’t be, or isn’t, found guilty, then he didn’t do the crime.

(Sidebar: the lawyer David Allen Green once took time out of his valuable day to talk me through, step-by-step, how ‘doing something’ and ‘bring criminally liable for that thing’ are two very different things. I was, and remain, very grateful to him.)

But yeah, most often, lawyers on tv prove their client didn’t do the crime; that they were framed, or unlucky, in the wrong place at the wrong time, or being prosecuted because ‘they got away with it earlier’.

Sorry, again this has gotten away from me again.

(Wow, it is taking me some time to get back into blogging again, and in doing so, sticking to the bloody subject, isn’t it?)

As I got older, I found myself gravitating to shows that subverted the format; Petrocelli did it by always showing that someone else other than his client could have done the crime. The show never went with the “my client didn’t do it” but instead “with the evidence presented, someone else could have… so reasonable doubt, yeah?” There’s a John Larroquette show, McBride, that did something similar.

My preference for less obvious mysteries deepened, and my love of Columbo increased.

It was almost inevitable I guess that I’d end up focussing my actual excitement for ‘impossible’ crimes, for the locked room mysteries and for the ‘how did they do it?’

Who did it? How did they do it? How were they found out? And – in more than one medical mystery – what did it?

And we’ll return to all of that after the weekend. Along with a weird whodunnit panel show that never quite worked.

See you tomorrow, with… something else. And if you’ve been following this blog for a while, a reminder that tomorrow is Saturday, so you’ll know what that ‘something’ else is.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

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