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?