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Death in Paradise creator Robert Thorogood about debut novel & new series (exclusive interview)

The fantastic detective drama Death in Paradise returns to our screens with a brand new series, where bumbling DI Humphrey Goodman (Kris Marshall) and his team are ready to solve new puzzling murders on the idyllic Caribbean island of Saint Marie. Not only is there a brand new series to enjoy during the cold winter months, Death in Paradise creator Robert Thorogood has also written his first novel titled “A Meditation on Murder” which features DI Richard Poole as the crime-solving sleuth.

We had to say a fond farewell to Ben Miller’s character DI Richard Poole last series when he was murdered, while welcoming DI Humphrey Goodman to the show as he was able to solve the case. However thanks to the new released Death in Paradise novel, fans get another chance to spend some more time with DI Richard Poole as he tries to solve a particular perplexing case on the island of Saint-Marie. “A Meditation on Murder”  is a locked-room mystery where the murder victim Aslan Kennedy, the leader of a spiritual retreat for wealthy holidaymakers, is killed inside a locked room with only five other people , one of whom has already confessed to the murder when DI Poole arrives on the scene to investigate.

With the facts not quite stacking up, DI Poole is convinced that the person who’s just confessed to the murder couldn’t have done it. Determined to track down the real killer, DI Poole and his trusted team are soon on the trail.

“A Meditation on Murder” contains all the familiar ingredients of the successful series. An intriguing mystery, interesting and quirky witnesses and characters, the sun-soaked island of Saint-Marie – much to the dislike of DI Richard Poole who hates the sun, sea and sand. “Harry, the lizard” makes an appearance or two, and there’s of course time for romance as well. It’s a very challenging case, where the reader gets the opportunity to make up their own mind and guess who the real killer is, while trying to solve the conundrum of the locked door. It’s a lot of fun throughout, as you try to solve the pieces of the puzzle together alongside DI Richard Poole. Leading to a very satisfactory conclusion. If you’re stuck for what to read next, don’t hesitate to pick this one up!

a mediation on murder

We had a chat with creator Robert Thorogood about the upcoming fourth series and his debut novel, and what we can expect in the future.

What was the original idea behind the series? “Death in Paradise” is one of those drama series viewers look the most forward to in the winter time, when the show allows them to escape the often chilly and dark weather. It literally brings the sunshine inside for an hour thanks to the beautiful scenery of the Caribbean Isles, but also the people, the music and the colours. The setting and the characters are such a joy to watch, yet we can’t forget people do get killed every week! This antithesis between ‘paradise’ and ‘death’, was this the starting point?

Robert Thorogood: The story of where I got the idea from is rather sad one, as it came about during the Cricket World Cup of 2007, when the Pakistan Cricket Coach, Bob Woolmer, was found dead in his hotel room in the Caribbean (where the world cup was happening that year). Because Mr Woolmer was a British passport holder, and because his death was considered suspicious, I noticed that the newspapers were reporting that the Metropolitan Police were sending out a British Detective Inspector to the Caribbean to head up the investigation into his death.

As it turned out, it wasn’t murder. It was just a tragic accident. But at the time it was a suspected murder, and it seemed odd to me that the British Police felt that only a British Copper should be allowed to investigate a British Passport holder’s death. However, I didn’t do much with the information until a few days later when I was reading another report from the world cup, and in this one it said that St. Lucia had recently been voted the 4th most beautiful island in the world, but it also had the highest per capita murder rate in the world. 

The highest per capita murder rate in the world?!

It was like a supernova going off in my head, and the idea for Death in Paradise arrived fully-formed (sort-of) all at once. It went something like this: what if a British Copper is killed in the Caribbean, and the Met Police send out an officer they’re trying to get rid of to head up the inquiry… and then the Met in London stitch him up so that the British Copper is relocated to the Caribbean?

“Death in Paradise” is a real whodunnit which allows the viewers to form their own opinions about who this week’s murder could be, resulting in a ‘big reveal’ at the end where DI Richard Poole and from the third series onward DI Humphrey Goodman, excel at presenting the facts in front of all the witnesses and suspects gathered together. How the murderer committed the crime, as well as the motive behind it, is a lot of fun for the viewer to try and work out. So the episode endings always bring a certain satisfaction with them, finding out if your reasoning was right or if the clues put you on the wrong footing. How much of an influence did the work of Agatha Christie have on that aspect of the series?

Death in Paradise is very consciously an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery. But then, all good murder mysteries are Agatha Christie influenced because, although she wasn’t the first, she was by some distance the greatest ever writer in the genre. But it’s not just Agatha Christie that influences Death in Paradise, it’s also been inflected by my love of all TV murder mysteries – from Diagnosis Murder to Jonathan Creek; and from Murder She Wrote to Midsomer Murders. I just love all Golden Age-style murder mystery shows, and so it never occurred to me that Death in Paradise would be anything other than what it became: a show with a pre-credits sequence that ended with a dead body; a first round of interviews that seem to show all the witnesses as being ‘above board’; and then twists and turns all the way to a denouement where the Detective reveals ‘whodunnit’.

It was quite a shock when we lost DI Richard Poole played by Ben Miller at the start of last series. Was it difficult to replace ‘your leading character’ with DI Humphrey Goodman or did the writing come naturally? Kris Marshall has done a tremendous job fitting in the show so easily with his own quirky personality – how much fun was it to develop that new character?

This is a ticklish one, because – obviously – no production team would ever wish to lose the genius talents of someone like Ben Miller (although we always understood his reasons: he had a small child back in the UK, and, while I know this sounds impossible, shooting out in the Caribbean for six months in every year is a tough gig). However, the good news is that cast changes are always a chance to ‘grow’ the show, and you soon start thinking about what could be fun about a new character coming in – and and so it ended up being a real joy to create the warm-hearted and bumbling Humphrey Goodman.

What’s more, I get to have my cake and eat it. Because I signed up to do a Death in Paradise book before Ben had left the show, I get to keep writing the uptight character of Richard in book form; and I also get to write the accident-prone Humphrey for the TV series. 

One of many aspects viewers loved about the show was the ‘will-they / won’t they’ dynamic between Camille (Sara Martins) and Richard. And as we saw at the end of series 3, Humphrey admitted his feelings for Camille to Fidel ; while it’s clear Camille has an eye for Humphrey. Can you tease a little about what we can expect on the romantic front next series?

Ha! Never! But nice try. All I’ll say is that you’ll need to watch Series 4 to find out what happens!

A new series bring new murders. Do you have a particular favourite episode this series? How difficult is it creatively to come up with new ways of ‘killing’ characters and making the facts work as a puzzle? Does writing for TV bring its own set of challenges compared to writing a novel?

Yikes, how long have you got? Okay, so what I find really interesting is that we don’t seem to run out of ideas for episodes. Far from it. However, if I were doing the TV show on my own, I’d have run out of ideas back in 2012. But the truth is that the show is made by a fantastic production team, all of whom love murder mysteries as much as I do, and we also have super-talented writers who work on the show and bring their genius ideas with them, so the way it seems to work is that we all sit in a room throwing out ideas of what we’d like to see… or cool murders we’ve thought of… or Story of the Week worlds we’re interested in… and between the writer of each episode and the production team, we seem to be able to keep creating fun and engaging murder mysteries.

As for the differences between the TV show and a book, it’s perhaps not surprising – or maybe it is? – to say that they are hugely different. For a TV episode, you’re constantly thinking, ‘how will this look’? (For example, is it shot at night, in which case, will we have too many minutes of consecutive darkness for a ‘sunny’ show?) But, paradoxically, even though a TV show is about telling a story through images, when you write a TV script you generally don’t get too bogged down in descriptions of locations or people: after all, the location will look how it looks because it’s what the Location Manager was able to find on Guadeloupe (where we film the series); the designer will have dressed the set, the crew will have lit the scene, the actors will also have been dressed by costume; and, finally, the director and director of photography will have chosen what angle to shoot the scene from. And that’s why you don’t get bogged down with descriptions in a script: it’s a hugely collaborative process that’s entirely tied to the real world.

Whereas, the joy of a novel is that you only have to write a sentence and you can conjure anything into existence. (For example, the idea for A Meditation on Murder was one I’d had for some time, but we couldn’t work out how we could build the necessary Japanese Tea House that sits at the centre of the story).

Even more excitedly, the joy of a novel is that it allows the author access to his or her character’s internal thoughts, and this has been the single most enjoyable benefit of writing a novel rather than a TV script: in a novel I can explore Richard’s grumpy take on the world in far greater detail.

Fans of the show who are missing DI Richard Poole have another chance to spend some quality  time with him thanks to “A Meditation on Murder”. It was an absolute delight from start to finish. Are you planning to write more novels and will they continue to feature DI Richard Poole?

I’m so pleased you enjoyed it, and thank you very much for saying so. And yes, I’m working on another Richard Poole novel at the moment. I shan’t say too much about it at the moment – it’s only at the planning stages – but I can’t wait to get back to Saint-Marie again. 

What was the inspiration behind the story of “A Meditation on Murder”? 

As you’ve read the novel – and know how it unfolds – I’m sure you can appreciate that I can’t really say too much about my inspiration for the book without risking giving away spoilers. However, I’ve always been obsessed with locked room mysteries. And part of my inspiration for the book was me realising that I haven’t often (indeed, ever?) read or seen a locked room mystery where the only possible suspects were all locked inside the room with the victim the whole time. So that was the thread of thought that got me started. If the only possible killers were all locked inside a room with the victim, who might the killer be…?

It was a real pleasure to follow the investigation through Richard’s eyes and follow his mindset all the way through as he tried to solve this very tricky case. As a reader it was great to see the facts summarized on the page in the form of a transcription of the ‘whiteboard’. With some crime dramas, sometimes the viewer/reader ends up feeling cheated because they didn’t have all the facts – which can’t be said with “A Meditation on Murder”. Do you take special care from the get go to make sure all the facts are included in the storytelling? 

What a lovely question! Because, yes, I take huge amounts of care to make sure that I tell the murder mystery story as honourably as possible. For me, the reader has to believe that they have the same information as the detective when the denouement starts. And as regards the whiteboard, that was an idea I borrowed (stole!) from Jeffrey Deaver from his brilliant The Bone Collector (which, although tonally completely different, is as a good a Golden Age Murder Mystery as there’s ever been). I just think it’s so much more fun to let the audience – if they so wish – to have a digest of all of the facts that pertain to the case.

As Goodman gets along just fine with the lizard at the beach house, it was so much fun to read Richard’s turmoil about his unwanted guest. The scenes really brought some comic relief. How did the idea of adding the lizard come about?

Funnily enough, this is another example of where writing a novel is ‘easier’ than writing for TV, because, as anyone who reads the book will find out, Richard goes through quite a dramatic ‘journey’ with Harry his lizard, and this is an entire B-story that I’d not only written into an episode in series 1 of the TV show, but we’d even shot it…. but the weather was so bad on those days that we ended up having to cut the whole story strand from the finished episode. And I’d always felt cheated. So when I was thinking of what to put in the book, Richard’s peculiar relationship with ‘his’ lizard was almost the first thing I wanted to put in.

With the continued success of “Death in Paradise” do you have other upcoming projects lined up? 

There are a few TV projects I’ve got lined up, but the (perhaps unsurprising) truth is that I Iove Death in Paradise very much. Whether it’s Humphrey or Richard, I love the world of the show, the warmth of the show, and the fact that we get to do things like kill a bridesmaid on her wedding day with a speargun. Come on! What other show gets to do that?! So as long as the there’s a demand, I’ll always want to write it. Whether it’s in script-form for the television… or in book-form for readers.

Death in Paradise Series 4 airs Thursdays at 9.00 pm  on BBC One

“A Meditation on Murder” is out now!

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Robert-Thorogood/e/B00MTAR75A

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