Ian Rankin’s Murder Island: Forget whodunnit. This is more of a whywatchit?

The superstar crime writer’s contribution to this reality show won’t enhance his reputation

Murder Island: brothers-in-law and aspiring sleuths Andrew and Nick

Murder Island: brothers-in-law and aspiring sleuths Andrew and Nick

 

There are two big gimmicks in Murder Island (Channel 4, Tuesday, 9.30pm). The first is that it’s a murder mystery written by the crime-novel superstar Ian Rankin. The second is that it’s a reality-TV series in which members of the public attempt to piece together the clues to a brutal killing. Let’s call it The Great British Bump Off.

It is also – and this is surely the real twist – dreary beyond belief. Brought to a remote Scottish island where a young ecowarrior has been killed at her holiday cottage, the members of the public tasked with solving the crime spend the opening episode mooching about and challenging the viewer to switch over to something less ghoulishly tedious. Forget whodunnit. This is more of a whywatchit?

It’s interminable. The investigators shuffle about the house where “Charly Hendricks” died. And they visit the pub where she protested plans by evil developers to open a tacky resort. One of the “detectives” struggles to understand the actor barman’s trowelled-on Scottish accent. At which point the paint drying over the pint-puller’s shoulder becomes more exciting.

Thrillers have been killing off bright-eyed young women for decades. But that formula lands a little more queasily today than might have once been the case

The obvious issue is that Murder Island wants to be two things at once. With actors re-creating Hendricks’s final days on the island, the series is at its most compelling when it’s an old-school, tweed-and-pipe Cluedo game.

Charly, we learn, was six weeks pregnant the night she died. And there is a suggestion of a love triangle between her and an estranged local couple. (It is possible she was involved with both.)

It’s perfectly cute. Or at least it would be were it not for the fact that violence against women is once again in the headlines. Thrillers have been killing off bright-eyed young women for decades. But that formula lands a little more queasily today than might have once been the case. Let’s just say the timing could be better.

Murder Island proceeds to shoot completely off the rails as the reality component is added. Andrew and Nick are brothers-in-law and aspiring sleuths. (It is they who are baffled by the barman’s brogue.) We are also introduced to Dot and Rox, who met working in a pub and have to be reminded not to stand in the victim’s blood at the crime scene.

Murder Island: former chief superintendent Parm Sandhu has the harsh-taskmaster routine down to perfection
Murder Island: former chief superintendent Parm Sandhu has the harsh-taskmaster routine down to perfection

Keeping an eye on these would-be crime-busters is Parm Sandhu, a former chief superintendent. She has clearly been up all night watching Alan Sugar on The Apprentice and Simon Cowell on The X Factor, for she has the harsh-taskmaster routine down to perfection. She glowers at the contestants as they take the ferry to the island. And later admonishes them for failing to find the victim’s diary – which has, quite obviously, been hidden in a hot-water bottle (where else?).

It’s all a bit naff and grim, and Rankin, in particular, won’t look on it as enhancing his reputation. Channel 4 wanted a reality-television Miss Marple. This is just a missed opportunity and ill-timed to boot.

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