Stars on TV Screens*

You see them on TV all the time. You may even feel that you know them, they’re that familiar. Yes, I’m talking about TV presenters. They may host a quiz or celebrity show, or they may host some other sort of show. Either way, they’re a part of our lives.

They may seem to live charmed lives, but TV presenters are humans, as we all are. And they work in what can be very highly-charged, tense atmosphere. So, it’s not surprising that they also show up in crime fiction. After all, where would we be without those shows and their hosts?

In Julian Symons’ A Three-Pipe Problem, we are introduced to television star Sheridan ‘Sher’ Haynes. He is the lead in a popular Sherlock Holmes series, with Basil Wainwright as his Watson. Although Haynes is a popular television personality, the show has been slipping in ratings. What’s more, Haynes has his share of problems with the show. He is a dedicated fan of the Holmes stories, and isn’t happy at all with the changes that the show’s creators have made to the stories and some of the major characters. Then, Haynes gets an idea to save the series and show that his more purist view of the show will prevail. There’s been a series of bizarre murders, called the ‘Karate Killings.’  The police haven’t made much progress, but Haynes thinks that if he uses Holmes’ method, he can find out who the killer is. It’s a strange idea, and plenty of people in Haynes’ life are not happy about it. But he persists and starts to ask questions. He gets into his share of trouble, but in the end, he finds out the truth.

In Catherine O’Flynn’s The News Where You Are, we meet TV presenter Frank Allcroft. As the novel begins, he’s at rather a crossroads in his life. He’s doing well at his show, he’s happy with his wife, and a proud father. But he doesn’t feel settled. He’s also dealing with the death of his predecessor, friend, and colleague, Phil Smedway. It seems that Smedway was jogging one morning when he was killed in a hit-and-run incident. In his restlessness, Allcroft is drawn to the scene of Smedway’s death. He notices some things that make him wonder. For one thing, the road is straight and clear. For another, the weather on the day of Smedway’s death was dry. There’s no reason a driver wouldn’t have been able to swerve to avoid hitting Smedway. Now, Allcroft begins to wonder what really happened. Among other things, the novel gives real insight into what it’s like to be a TV presenter.

Christopher Fowler’s Ten Second Staircase features London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU). Arthur Bryant and John May and the rest of the PCU investigate a bizarre set of murders. It seems that someone is targeting minor celebrities and seems to be doing it to become a star himself. One of those the killer targets is Danny Martell, the host of a popular ITV teen lifestyle show. He’s in the gym one day, trying to work off some stress and lose a bit of weight when he’s mysteriously electrocuted. It’s a strange set of crimes, and the PCU team has its hands full as it tries to make sense of the only clear clue: an eyewitness who says the killer was wearing a cape and a tricorner hat.

Lynda Wilcox’s Strictly Murder is the first of her novels to feature Verity Long. She is research assistant to famous crime novelist Kathleen ‘KD’ Davenport. Mostly, her job is to research old crime cases that Davenport can use as the basis for her work. Long gets involved in her own murder case when she decides to look for a new home. A house agent is showing her a place when she discovers the body of celebrity TV presenter Jaynee ‘JayJay’ Johnson. Since Long found the body, she’s of interest to the police, and she gets involved in finding out who killed the victim. And it turns out that there are several suspects. The behind-the-scenes atmosphere wasn’t at all pleasant, since Johnson wasn’t exactly beloved among her colleagues.

And then there’s Hannah Dennison’s Katherine ‘Kat’ Stanford. She was a successful TV presenter who hosted a show called Fakes & Treasures. But she got ‘burned out’ from the stress of being in the media limelight. Her plan had been to open an antiques business with her mother, but everything changes in Murder at Honeychurch Hall. In that novel, Stanford discovers that her mother has abruptly moved to the Devon village of Little Dipperton. Shocked at her mother’s choice, Stanford rushes there, only to find that her mother’s been injured in a minor car accident. She stays on to help while her mother heals up and gets drawn into a murder mystery.

Television presenters may seem to lead magical lives, but things don’t always go very smoothly. Those conflicts and stresses can make things difficult for the presenter, but they can add much to a crime novel. These are just a few examples. I know you’ll think of more.


*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Kyte.


Filed under Catherine O'Flynn, Christopher Fowler, Hannah Dennison, Julian Symons, Lynda Wilcox

16 responses to “Stars on TV Screens*

  1. Louise Welsh’s A Lovely Way to Burn is a thriller in which a plague-like virus known as ‘the sweats’ spreads and Stevie Flint, a TV presenter on a shopping channel, is one of the few survivors. She contracts the disease from her boyfriend, a surgeon who apparently died of natural causes. She finds his laptop and realises that he was on the track of something sinister . . .

  2. Lots of new names there for me to investigate, Margot!
    Ragnar Jonasson in his Icelandic series has a policeman and an ambitious female TV reporter working together on occasion to solve some of the mysteries.

  3. Spade & Dagger

    The Truth & Other Lies by Sascha Arango (one of Germany’s most prominent screenplay writers!) features Henry who is famous on TV & in public life as a best selling novelist. However, Henry has a dark side & success depends on a carefully maintained lie he will stop at nothing to protect. This is often compared to the Ripley books by Patricia Highsmith.

  4. What’s that one where there’s a TV presenter of a reality show who accidentally gets elected President? Oh, wait… 😉

    More seriously, in Elly Griffiths’ The Blood Card, stage magician Max Mephisto gets his own show – a one-off – on the brand new medium of television. Apart from being a good historical crime novel, it’s an interesting look at how TV programmes were made back in the early days.

    • 😆 Yes, that story of reality-show-to-President? Way too far-fetched to actually believe, FictionFan. 😉

      As to the Griffiths, I’m glad you mentioned it. She does do a fine job of evoking the ’50s in a lot of ways. And it’s interesting see what it was like when those shows were made in television’s infancy. Thanks for the reminder; I’d left a gap in the post that you filled.

  5. Patti Abbott

    I must admit I have never read a book with a TV host in it. I may have seen a Columbo episode about one though.

  6. Col

    I’m sure I’ve crossed paths with celebrity in my reading but nothing too much springing to mind. Maybe an early Elvis Cole case?

  7. tracybham

    I have several books by Julian Symons but still have not read any of them. I did read Christopher Fowler’s Ten Second Staircase, but I had forgotten the TV connection. (It is very convenient, I forget the plots of mysteries and then I can read them again.)

    In Barbara Paul’s THE RENEWABLE VIRGIN, one of the main characters has a role in a TV show. I loved that book.

    • Thanks for mentioning The Renewable Virgin, Tracy. I admit, that’s not one I’ve read before, but it does sound like a clear example of what I had in mind with this post.

      I think one of the things about reading a lot of crime fiction is that it’s easy to forget one or another plot strand. There are so many good ones out there…

  8. In one of Ngaio Marsh’s books, Singing in the Shrouds, the question of alibis comes up. One of the suspects is a well-known TV presenter, and the initial conclusion is that he cannot be guilty because he was ON TV at the relevant time. BUT – then it becomes apparent that it might have been a pre-recorded show, it is conceivable that he was out and about then. So we can tell that the world was just moving away from all-live TV in 1958, when the book was published…

    • And it’s so interesting to see how Marsh handles that development, isn’t it, Moira? You’ve reminded me, too, that I’ve not (re)read Marsh’s work for a while. I ought to. That’s the trouble with having so much good crime fiction out there. There’s never time to read it all, let alone reread the good ‘uns. Thanks for the reminder of this one.

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