Sleuths


Locally, last night’s Midsomer Murders was the episode, “Echoes of the Dead.”  Our PBS station’s purchased programs recently exhausted the Tom Barnaby episodes and we’re (finally) onto cousin John’s adventures. Not surprisingly, Cousin John’s cases have a slightly different feel to them than Tom’s. Having read about the change for ages, it’s nice to be (sort of) caught up. I’m guessing that I could catch myself up on a streaming service, but I like supporting a local station.

Because I like traveling, I’ve added to my enjoyment of the series by taking a virtual vacation to the filming locations in the story. During my travels, I can imagine either the film crew on location, or I can relive the story while ‘driving’ through the area by clicking arrow buttons on my laptop screen.

On the Sunday after a Saturday evening of murder and mayhem, it’s fun to drive around the area using Google Maps. No passport. No jetlag. No traffic jams. No murderers. The best part is that after my journey I get to sleep in my own bed. After decades of musical beds, whether in motels, hotels, or temporary Army quarters, ‘my own bed’ is a definite perk.

One thing to keep in mind concerning gazing around the filming locations is that the Google Maps images aren’t tidied up. I doubt anyone knew Google’s car would be driving by and so we don’t have all the pretty flower boxes, a street free of clutter, or the setting perfectly maintained. Still, the price is right.

Naturally, today’s virtual Sunday drive is to England.

The Red Lion Pub in Little Missenden, Buckinghamshire was renamed “The Monks Retreat” for the story. “Bernards hardware store” (IRL, the Village shop) is just to the right of the Red Lion/Monks Retreat.

Unfortunately for our outing, the train station for Great Worthy (in actuality, the Watercress Line in Ropley, Hampshire) was the site of the large building project when the Google Car made its pass through the area. Leaving the station, though, if you click-drive down the country lane out to a T-intersection, you can head either toward Winchester or Guildford.

Great Worthy school was filmed at Albury in Surrey. The Google car couldn’t get close, so neither can we.

The film crews cobble together lovely imaginary towns by trekking all over the countryside. I imagine they have a special team whose job it is to travel around to scout locations. (kind of a ‘duh’ statement concerning the sophistication of the film industry)

For me, virtually traveling to the filming sites adds depth to the stories. With no dialogue or jump-cuts in the Google Maps images, I can take my time, concentrate, and browse. I do miss the smells and sounds of the areas, and I can’t go out to a tea room for a little light refreshment. Still, as I mentioned above, the price is right.

Two years ago, I made a virtual visit to Shetland using Google Maps after watching a television version of Ann Cleves’s book, Dead Water.

This time, my virtual visit is to the Isle of Lewis. Lewis is far closer to the Scottish mainland than Shetland, but my overall impression was the same: wind, salt water, and weather.

Butt of Lewis lighthouse, Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

 

The reason for my virtual visit to the Western Isles is the book The Blackhouse by Peter May. I listened to it on Audible, and am now onto the next book, The Lewis Man.

In the book, Peter May writes so vividly that you all but cringe because of the drops of brine from The Minch shot into your face by the wind. My only connection to this part of the world is remembering my dad reminiscing about when we lived in England and he, like Mrs. Bale on the television show As Time Goes By, listened to the shipping forecast. My dad’s recollection of the information about the Scottish Isles was “gale force winds.”

The Blackhouse is a character-driven story. Everything hinges on Detective Inspector Fin Macleod’s background as he comes back to the Isle of Lewis to look into a murder with similar details to one he’s investigating in Edinburgh. In the reviews on Goodreads, this focus on character seems to be a love it or hate it factor. Some reviewers strenuously object to the focus on the importance of character rather than puzzle, but the book still has a solid 4-star (out of five) rating. As I’ve bought the next Audible book in the series, I can say that I enjoyed Peter May’s method of telling the story.

May’s story echoes historic events on the island. In my Google Maps drive around the island, I came to a beach I’d seen mentioned on road signs. Near the beach stands a memorial to a group of fishermen who were lost at sea.

A significant theme in the book is the culture of the island and the lore of the guga hunters, “guga” being the local name for the chicks of a seabird otherwise known as the gannet. May’s description matches the scenes in this video, but he doesn’t dwell on the “acquired taste” for the guga.

For my virtual travel, the combination of reading May’s story, my expedition via Google Maps, plus the guga video and article, provide an excellent (and passportless) outing to the Scottish Isles, with no jet lag.

Tickets, please!

When I’m writing a story, sometimes I get stuck. I’ll forget where my characters are in relation to each other. I’ll forget the exact sequence of events. I’ll forget where the characters are standing. I’ll forget how many people are even in a room.

When I have these lapses, I’m almost cheerful because that’s when I can legitimately play with some toys I (said I) bought for the grandkids — Playmobil playsets.

The two men on the (invisible) motorcycle are about to throw a Molotov cocktail at the car. My heroine, the woman on the balcony, will roust a colleague and they'll be finding fire extinguishers to put out the fire before the car can go up in flames.

The two men on the (invisible) motorcycle are about to throw a Molotov cocktail at the car. My heroine, the woman on the balcony, will roust a colleague and they’ll be finding fire extinguishers to put out the fire before the car can go up in flames.

 

I first found Playmobil toys in 1976 after we moved to Germany for the second time.  My husband and I gave our son two sets of them for Christmas.  In the years since then, the company has expanded their range of playsets so that people like me can now use them in ways the designers probably didn’t imagine. At the moment, I have a motorcycle policeman on order. In future, my characters won’t be riding invisible motorcycles.

I’m happy to say that when my little characters aren’t busy getting up to no good in my imaginary worlds, they’re happily inhabiting the more innocent stories of little children.

So, I’m sitting here, allegedly multitasking by checking a Sisters In Crime email list, emailing a thank-you, cribbing information on formatting ebooks, and watching the movie Scoop on Netflix.  I’ve read that multitasking doesn’t actually work, but it seems that I’m doing it anyhow.

While I’m multitasking, a little voice in the back of my head keeps telling me I’m missing something. It’s a nagging little feeling, nothing momentous (thank goodness), but just something.

Through my haze of reading, typing, muting the story when suspenseful things are happening (I’m fine with mysteries, but I don’t [gracefully] do suspense), I think, “Lovejoy.”  It finally dawns on me that one of the primary characters in the movie is Ian McShane, an actor I haven’t seen onscreen in years. That little voice isn’t in the back of my head, it’s coming from the television.

Now I’m going to have to waste time looking on Netflix for Lovejoy. I don’t have much hope, but you never know.  In the meantime, back to Scoop.

On the Sisters in Crime email list for “the great unpublished” (Guppies), one of the discussions was how a member discovered Donna Leon’s Inspector Brunetti series that is set in Venice, Italy. I’m a Brunetti fan and I was pleased to see recommendations for books by authors who set their stories in Italy.

The pièce de résistance of the discussion (as far as I was concerned) was the revelation that an Inspector Brunetti television series is available, in German!  (pardon my squeal of excitement)  I now have a list for people-who-give-me-gifts, and am thinking up nine gift-giving days, such as Mother’s Day, my birthday, our anniversary, and Christmas.  I suppose we could add St. Patrick’s Day, the first day of spring, May Day, Hallowe’en and Flag Day.  That makes nine, right?

Again, thanks to the Guppy list and the generous members.

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Update

The first two-program Brunetti video set arrived yesterday and I watched the first program, “Vendetta.”  I (along with my three-week old granddaughter) enjoyed the show.  The scenes of Venice were delightful; the characters, although not identical to what I imagined while reading the books, are well-cast; hearing German took me back to Europe; the story was well-produced.  The subtitled were useful for scenes in which the German words weren’t clear, or for dialogue in which I just didn’t know the words. My baby was lulled throughout.

All in all, a success.  I look forward to (eventually) seeing the entire series.

On Netflix, I have just discovered Phryne Fisher.

The first two episodes of the series (all that I’ve seen, at the moment) are of excellent quality, capturing the elegance of the 1920s. I also find the characters to be engaging.  I’m hoping that the books are as evocative.