Storytelling Done Right: The Murdoch Mysteries

When I finished watching all of “Miss Fisher’s Mysteries” the first recommendation that popped up was “The Murdoch Mysteries.” I gave it a try, not expecting to discover a series so good that I would watch the available nine seasons and then immediately start over again. But that’s what happened. After watching 9 season’s worth of episodes twice I developed a theory about what makes this series so compelling.

“The Murdoch Mysteries” starts out in late 1800s Toronto and follows the adventures of William Murdoch, a detective with Police Station House #4. While the show quickly establishes Murdoch as something of a genius and he invents a great many investigative tools, the setting is (by necessity) largely lo-tech. There are no high-speed chases, no city-block-leveling explosions, and no instances of widespread violence sweeping across all of Canada. The drama is confined not just to Toronto but to the jurisdiction of Murdoch’s own station house. As a result, the tension (while it occasionally involves danger and mayhem), often boils down to a question of “how do these events impact the careers and relationships of the main characters?” While they do sometimes solve a mystery with higher stakes and larger implications, the important part of the adventure is what it does to the equilibrium of the main characters’ lives. I’ve really enjoyed keeping track of a finite group of people instead of being caught up in huge scandals or over-the-top crime and danger.

And I think that might be the allure of most novels in general. Because they are (refreshingly) free of special effects and noise and bluster, novels deliver that same intriguing intimacy of getting to know people and what happens to them. True, some of Murdoch’s adventures are far-fetched but (as with a good novel) none of them are simply the noise and fluff that came from this week’s special effects’ budget. (And, yes, predictably, while I am waiting for season 11 to start, I am re-watching season 10. Don’t judge me.)



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