Murder Island review: The real mystery is how this amateur detective show ends up being quite so boring

·3-min read
Sarah and Richmond on the case in ‘Murder Island’  (Channel 4)
Sarah and Richmond on the case in ‘Murder Island’ (Channel 4)

In theory, Murder Island (Channel 4) has a lot going for it. It’s a cross between two genres the viewing public seemingly can’t get enough of – the detective drama and reality TV. It’s written by Ian Rankin, no less. It’s set on the beautiful island of Gigha in the Mull of Kintyre. There’s a cash prize of some £50,000 for the pair of amateur detectives who manage to solve a murder case, with a failing pair of sleuths being slung out each week – so there is a sharp competitive element. They’ve recruited real-life ex-homicide detectives to supervise the rookie plain clothes coppers, and we get to learn a bit more about their work. A range of clues have been carefully supplied for the contestants to study – plenty of blood from a stab wound, glasses of wine and a footprint at the scene, a coroner’s report. There’s even a classic VW camper co-starring in this show. And yet the real mystery is how it ends up being quite so boring.

As a matter of professional pride, I trudged my way through the whole hour, trying not to let my mind wander off, but I had the living room painted the other day and I found myself more interested in a couple of imperfections on the wall. Like a good detective, I have an eye for detail.

I suppose that, unlike in real-life crimes or the best drama series, there isn’t anyone on Murder Island, real or otherwise, to care about. There is an admittedly clever twist in making the “victim” (an eco-warrior from the mainland found dead in a rental house) the programme’s narrator, but it’s hard to be bothered by an actor playing a corpse. Likewise, the eight amateur detectives aren’t really the stuff of tabloid TV dreams. Certainly they are what they call in that part of the world “numpties”, but not in an especially engaging way.

Sprinkled throughout are short clips filling in the back story, seen by us but not by the contestants, who have to piece it all together from scratch. We learn how the victim, Charly Hendricks, was caught up in a campaign to stop developers from turning the traditional island into some sort of boutique eco-tourism hellhole. We also discover she was in what one pair of the amateur sleuths rather quaintly call a “love triangle”. This puts real estate figures and a heartbroken husband on the list of potential culprits. The suspects are all portrayed in vivid primary colours, like the little pieces you’d find on a Cluedo board, but sadly with not much more characterisation to them than those plastic pawns.

I have a vague memory of being caught up in some murder-mystery nonsense at a hotel a few years ago, but I soon got so embarrassed at the ridiculousness of it all that I slipped away to the real hotel bar with its real staff and real selection of real malt whiskies. Viewers of Murder Island might choose to make a similar escape.

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