You only have to take a quick look at the television guide or go to the crime section of your nearest bookstore to know that period crime procedurals – crime stories set in the past – are popular.
Showing or having recently aired on free-to-air television have been Foyle’s War, a police procedural show set during or immediately after the Second World War; Dr Blake Mysteries, set in Ballarat in the 1950s; Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, based on the successful books by Melbourne writer Kerry Greenwood set in late-1920s Melbourne; andAquarius, dealing with the murders committed by Charles Manson in 1960s California. These programs feed into a much wider canon of popular period shows – everything from Downton Abbey, to Mad Men and Wolf Hall, the adaption of Hilary Mantel’s 2009 bestselling Booker Prize-winning novel.
Our desire for period crime procedurals is just as big on the printed page. In Australia alone, there are Sulari Gentill’s books featuring the 1930s sleuth, Roland Sinclair, Robert Gott’s police procedurals set in the newly formed homicide squad in 1940s Melbourne, and Geoffrey McGeachin’s award winning Melbourne police detective Charlie Berlin, to name a few.
What is driving this? Is this a symptom of our refusal to come to grips with modern reality?
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Union Station is one of the great films in this genre. Barry Fitzgerald plays a seasoned detective looking for a murderer.
I think you’re absolutely spot on here. I remember when Silence of the Lambs came out. It was my first introduction to serial killer fiction and I was as attracted by the craziness of the crimes as I was by the notion that their inherent madness would lead the cops to the killer. It’s part morbid curiosity and part assertion of control.
Since then I’ve very much enjoyed the genre but for some crazy reason, could not stomach Aquarius. I think it was almost too soon for me, too real. I felt it glorified Manson in a way that might work with Jack the Ripper but not with a still-incarcerated killer.