7.2 Existential Detectives
European middle-aged men are having a tough go at these days, if their television shows are any indication. Especially police detectives. For the past few weeks, I’ve watched a lot of Netflix, probably too much. Maybe it was my mood, but I binged on one television show after another that featured middle-aged police detectives going through some kind of existential crisis. Whether mental illness (River), disappointment (The Bridge), suicide (Luther), depression (Wallander), regret (Hinterland) or alcoholism (Jack Taylor), all these guys are obsessed and all desperately are trying to suppress their emotions, which only resulted in bursts of anger, frustration and violence. These shows were good to wallow in for a couple of hours because no matter how depressed I felt, River or Wallander were sadder and full of much more melancholy.
A scene common to all of these shows was immediately after the discovery of the crime, usually a grisly murder. Luther or Jack Taylor showed up, put on their latex gloves and investigated. They picked items up with pens, careful not to contaminate the crime scene. They bent down to the body, sometimes turning their heads sideways to look at the victims. They walked through the house or apartment and just by opening a few cabinets or going through some papers on a desk, they came up with a theory about who the victim was, in most cases, they were incredibly specific and almost always right.
As a morbid thought experiment, I wondered what would happen if I was the victim of a terrible crime and one of these existential detectives were put on the case. What would they see in the crime scene? What would their conclusion be?
My body wouldn’t have been found for a few days. I live alone, so there’s no partner who might’ve arrived home after work to find the awful aftermath. Let’s say that I was found on the floor of the kitchen. I live in a condo and you open the door into the kitchen. They probably would notice that the oven hasn’t been used in a while. Maybe they would open the oven door and find the pots that I store inside? What would they deduce? “The victim doesn’t use his kitchen much. Evidence of many takeout containers.” A few days before writing this, I ordered Chinese food for myself. In the bottom of the bag were four fortune cookies. Wallander might spot the remaining fortune cookies sitting on the counter and remark sarcastically, “With no family or partner, this guy didn’t need all those cookies. How sad.”
Bookshelves line the wall opposite the kitchen. Jack Taylor, who is a good old fashioned alcoholic with a literary appreciation, might run his finger along one of the shelves, noting the thin layer of dust. “He’s trying,” Taylor would say. “But he’s failing at it.” Taylor, being Irish, would pull Ulysses from the shelf and remark, “This is probably for show.”
Would Luther think it was sad that I don’t really have a dining room area? A place to sit down with a family? A place to gather with friends? No, my dining room table has been turned into my office area. Four computer screens take away any chance to have a relaxing meal with someone. Anyway, who would that someone be? Luther would probably deduce that the victim liked his privacy, didn’t like to have visitors and therefore must have something to hide.
Martin from The Bridge would walk up the stairs to my bedroom. He’d notice that my bed was made. Perhaps not a relevant detail, but one that might be important. After all, I’ve had this discussion with many people as of late. Apparently, making your bed every morning is unusual and not something everyone does. It’s the first thing I do in the morning. Martin would note this and perhaps bring it up later as a clue to what happened.
River would find my closet to be the most interesting. The rest of the place is kept relatively clean, but the closet is bursting at the seams. Seems that the victim likes to present himself as clean, but was this a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’? There’s a sense of embarrassment to have a messy place, so I just make sure I can’t see the mess. Translated, this means that my entire life isn’t as clean and organized as I might have people believe. River would wonder to himself, “What other secrets is he hiding?”
So, whether it’s Jack Taylor or Wallander or Luther or River, they’d probably come up with this conclusion: the victim is in his late 30s, lives alone, gets a little sad sometimes, has few visitors, presents himself as one thing, but is very much another. And they would probably be right. They would leave with this question: “Who on earth would want to kill this guy?”