A Final Thought: Where were you at the time of the murder?


By Mitch Allen

My wife and I are anglophiles. We love everything British. Right now in our kitchen cabinets you’ll find Walker shortbread cookies and McVitie’s digestive biscuits, which, by the way, do nothing to aid digestion; they’re just cookies. In our freezer, you might even find crumpets, delicious with butter and blackberry jam. Most of our ancestors came here from England, including two who arrived on the Mayflower. Plus, my wife went to college in London for a time, and together we’ve hiked southwest England’s 100-mile Cotswold Way.

That said, my knowledge of the country doesn’t come from travel or study; it comes from sitting on my butt binge-watching British murder mysteries, popular series like Midsomer Murders, Inspector Morse, Inspector Lewis, Vera, and the lovable Father Brown, played by Mr. Weasley from the Harry Potter movies.

Actually, there are only about a dozen actors in the whole of the United Kingdom. They just keep guest starring on each other’s TV shows. I’ve watched thousands of episodes over the decades and I can tell you that virtually every adult actor in the Harry Potter movie franchise has—at some point in their career—been questioned at length by a nosy detective chief inspector (DCI) over a cup of tea.

Although there are exceptions, most British murder mysteries feature four main characters: the chief inspector and his or her junior partner, a medical examiner, and some kind of senior officer. It’s the medical examiner’s role to avoid being too specific at the murder scene by saying, “I’ll know more when I get him on the table,” and it’s the senior officer who must regularly remind the DCI that he should not go about harassing suspects who are members of the British upper crust, particularly those with titles like “lady” or “lord.”

My wife likes these shows because they are calm and relaxing. There is little gratuitous violence, no cussing, and the detectives wear suits and ties and ride around in black Mercedes Benzes. Well, expect for Vera; she wears a trench coat and a floppy hat, drives an old Land Rover, and calls her suspects “love” and “pet.” If Vera Stanhope says to you, “Don’t worry, pet,” it’s time to start worrying.

English police officers don’t carry guns, which is decidedly un-American. Still, that doesn’t stop them from running into buildings to confront cold-blooded killers and subdue them with words like, “Put down the weapon, please,” “Step away from the ledge,” and “You don’t really want to do this.” Of course, the suspects always confess, usually right there on the spot. It’s like they can’t shut up and they’ve never heard of a lawyer. And why bother? British attorneys are utterly useless on these shows. They just sit in the interview room scribbling on a legal pad without saying a word while their clients confess to everything from drug dealing and theft to smuggling and murder.

That’s a role even I could play.

After all these years watching, I have determined that there are three primary alibis for murder, one of which will appear in almost every episode of every series:

#1: “I went for a walk to clear my head.”
I don’t know what it is about the British, but they do a lot of walking and their heads must be very cloudy (perhaps it’s all of that fog and rain). Then again, if I had to drive on the wrong side of the road, I’d do a lot of walking, too.

They walk in the woods, on the moors, and on lonely hilltops, often accompanied by a dog and either a walking stick or a shotgun folded over their arm in case they come upon a nice, plump pheasant. It’s a worthless alibi, however, because no one ever witnesses you on these walks, which sometimes include finding a dead body with the aid of said canine companion or having your own skull bashed in by a medieval weapon pilfered from the dusty collection of a member of the local landed gentry. British screenwriters love to kill off their characters with medieval weaponry.

#2: “I was with someone.”
Uh-oh. This is code for, “I was having sex with someone who is not my spouse.”

This happens a lot on these shows because it’s such a good alibi in that no one wants to admit to infidelity, so when they do, it must be true. And unlike American mysteries, these lovers are rarely attractive people, usually a chubby, old landowner and the middle-aged wife of a local shopkeeper who never smiles and doesn’t wear makeup. And the Brits apparently still like to smoke cigarettes after sex and stand half-naked at open windows inadvertently revealing their indiscretions to the villagers below.

Hey, no one wants to see that.

#3: “I was down at the pub.”
This, too, is a highly effective alibi because if you’re at the pub everyone in town will see you there, just don’t walk home alone. Walking home tipsy from the pub will get you killed.

Every. Single. Time.

By the way, if you want to invite someone to the pub, all you have to say is, “Fancy a pint?” I said that once in the Dawg Pound at a Cleveland Browns game where some of the fans actually carry medieval weapons. Everyone laughed at me. I had to go for a walk to clear my head.


Categories: Smart Living