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Investigating Death in Paradise: Finding New Meaning in the BBC Mystery Series

By Robin Andersen

Review by Arthur Hayes

“A scholar solves the mystery of the appeal of a BBC  who-done-it TV series that has baffled critics.”

Part travel log, documentary, mythography, cultural analysis, and fan magazine, Investigating Death in Paradise: Finding New Meaning in the BBC Mystery Series is an eloquently penned defense of the long-running BBC Caribbean cozy murder mystery dramedy, Death in Paradise.

Widely panned when it debuted in 2011 as formulaic and insubstantial, the TV series has become an international success, still airing in 2023. Ed Power, writing for the British newspaper Independent, noted, “Yet critics are generally flabbergasted by its popularity when they deign to acknowledge its existence. Among those who make it their business to know the difference between good and bad television, there is widespread bafflement that an easy-to-follow thriller set on a gorgeous Caribbean island should find favour with the public.”

In Investigating Death in Paradise, recently retired media studies professor Robin Andersen identifies what she says the critics have overlooked—the appeal of the show’s adept actors—she interviews several cast members on location—intriguing plot lines, its novel twist on the appeal of the paradise myth, and its unconventionality. No other TV murder mystery can boast of a predominately Black Caribbean cast occupying lead roles, and plots that probe issues of social and racial inequality in the colonial and post-colonial Caribbean eras.

But the recurring device of pairing of the fish-out-of-water White British male inspectors called in to lead investigations with a local detective, an always capable Black woman, and sometimes amateurish uniformed police force who marvel at the inspectors’ sleuthing skills, raises accusations of “white saviorism.” Professor Andersen makes a compelling case that the demeaning Kiplingese trope is not in play in the TV series.

Still, even with the inclusion of this scholarly meditative, this is an entertaining read; you will find no pedantic prose here even in its polemics. If the late celebrity chef, author, and travel documentarian, Anthony Bourdain, had written a book about the TV series, no doubt it would have read a lot like Investigating Death in Paradise. Casual and avid fans will love and understand the series even more after reading this book. If you have been a scathing critic of the show, Andersen just might nudge you to take a second look.

Arthur Hayes is an author and educator with a background in Law and Journalism at Fordham University.  His two works on media law and free expression are Mass Media Law: the Printing Press to the Internet (2013) and Sympathy for the Cyberbully: How the Crusade to Censor Hostile and Offensive Online Speech Abuses Freedom of Expression (2017). He edited and contributed to the volume,  Communication in the Age of Trump (2018).