Vera: a Very British Detective

I apologise and am sorry that today this piece is published rather later than normal. I was distracted yesterday evening when I was supposed to be writing. On a normal day the bulk of my piece is written the day before I publish leaving editing as the last task as and when I finally manage to pull myself out of bed. I like to sleep on my thoughts and words.

Normally I fix on the topic mid-afternoon, scribble some sentences as themes and then, come the evening, in front of the television, pull it all together.

Yesterday, all was going fine, and today’s piece was supposed to be on Envy, the fourth in the Seven Deadly Sins series. I settled to write and then I saw that ITV was starting the new, 8th series of Vera. Everything changed. It demanded my full attention.

For those of you not in the UK let me tell you about Vera. It is a police drama set in Northumberland, in the North East of England with its stunning scenery as the backdrop. The North Sea, small villages and communities, and scarred, desolate moors.

Quoting from IDMB, “the central character is Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope. Who is obsessive about her work and driven by her own demons. If she’s lonely she doesn’t show it and faces the world with caustic wit, guile, and courage”. Vera is not a glamorous character. She is a dishevelled, old school, DCI, but best of all the lead actor is Brenda Blethyn, BAFTA winner and Academy nominee.  She is quality in the tradition of British actors. We are blessed with many of the world’s greatest actors.

It would be enough to finish this piece here with a strong recommendation to anyone who can catch the latest series to find Vera on a Sunday night. However, it gives me a chance to have another rant about, mainly American, crime drama.

It doesn’t matter if you are watching NCIS, Body of Truth, or Bones (to name just a few) they all work on the same premise. Somewhere in the 45 odd minutes of drama the detective’s team will stumble upon a piece of forensic evidence which narrows the field to one in a million. Hard work means nothing. It is all about science and forensic luck. They will just be leaving the crime scene when the lead’s attention is attracted. He or she walks across the room and after putting on their special latex gloves picks up in tweezers a tiny piece of hair, material, radioactive glass, or whatever which breaks the case and the show finishes five minutes later.

This is not Vera. Vera solves the murder, finds the killer through understanding, talking, logic and hard work. It is gritty, and the case is solved with little more than the occasional CCTV and finger print. Technology never solves the case. It’s all about the people.

This is the real cultural difference between Europe and America. In European fiction there is a long history of detectives who add their own personality to the problem but who essentially are ‘proper detectives’. Morse, Lewis, and Banks are a few.  Around the rest of Europe, we have the growth of Scandi Noir again ‘with certain common characteristics, typically in a realistic style with a dark, morally complex mood’. We like our detectives working in the real world. We like the flawed personalities that we relate to.

My fictional DCI, Paul Catchpole, is in this mould. He doesn’t rely on anything other than his own intellect and the hard work of his team.

Envy, will now have to wait for another day and for me it could be Amazon Prime and a back episode or two of Vera. I like my crime set in a world I can understand.