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Crime comes full circle

Long overshadowed by gritty crime, the ‘cosy’ murder mystery is appearing on screens and in bookstores again

Netflix’s ‘Murder Mubarak’ is an adaptation of Anuja Chauhan’s murder mystery novel ‘Club You To Death’
Netflix’s ‘Murder Mubarak’ is an adaptation of Anuja Chauhan’s murder mystery novel ‘Club You To Death’ (Netflix)

At first glance, you can’t call A Murder At The End Of The World a cosy murder mystery, a term that evokes the golden age of detective fiction and its associations with vintage country houses and manners. A Murder… is too edgy, too modern, too steeped in the specific concerns of our age—climate change, the limitations of Artificial Intelligence, longevity. Its detective figure is a Gen Z hacker and true crime writer with streaked pink hair and a pixie cut. But peel back the layers of the series, set in an isolated hotel in Iceland during a retreat for some of the world’s most creative people organised by an eccentric billionaire (comparisons with Elon Musk are inevitable), and you will find parallels.

A cosy mystery is, at its heart, a puzzle. Certain other elements are also necessary: a murder (of course), an amateur sleuth, a closed circle where everyone is a suspect, clues, alibis, often a second or third murder, a questioning of the suspects, and an astonishing denouement. A Murder... ticks all the boxes. Don’t be fooled by all the techno babble.

It could be the success of Only Murders In The Building, the twee show set in a New York apartment building that has had an incredible three-season run and been renewed for a fourth on the back of wafer-thin plots (I am not a fan), but suddenly, the closed-circle whodunit is back with a vengeance. It was perhaps an inevitable swing of the pendulum after what feels like an onslaught of bloody, violent, graphic crime on television for years, but audiences were clearly ready for murder with a lighter touch.

There’s Death And Other Details, which is set on a yacht—like many of Agatha Christie’s most celebrated novels set in a location that feels exotic (a cruise ship or a luxury train) but is ultimately cosy—where an uber-rich family is holidaying while also negotiating a game-changing business deal. There is a professional (but private) detective, albeit aided by an amateur. The cast of characters are all under suspicion for a violent murder, but Death… is ultimately comic and clever, effervescent and light.

It’s telling that even Mr And Mrs Smith, a spy/crime thriller with guns, bombs, shootouts and, in one memorable scene, actual dynamite, has a cosy touch to it. This is not The Americans, which was dark, brooding and serious. The reboot of the hit 2005 film is a delightful caper with surprising emotional depth.

As a lifelong devotee of the cosy murder mystery, deprived of my fix in crime fiction, which has been dominated by the hard-boiled police procedural for decades, this is a good turn. It even looks like the cosy is making a comeback in fiction—over the past few years, books by British authors like Anthony Horowitz, Janice Hallet and Richard Osman have been best-sellers and are being adapted into films or TV series.

Closer home, we will see an adaptation of Anuja Chauhan’s Club You To Death, a crime novel set in a posh Delhi club featuring her delightful detective Bhavani Singh, come to life as the Netflix film Murder Mubarak on 15 March. With heavyweights like Pankaj Tripathi, Karisma Kapoor, Vijay Varma, Dimple Kapadi and Sara Ali Khan, the Homi Adjania film will hopefully usher some light-hearted murder-solving into the Indian streaming space (and be better at it than the clunky Charlie Chopra, a 2023 series adapted by Vishal Bharadwaj from a Christie novel).

Chauhan, always good at coining a sharp phrase thanks to her advertising background, calls the genre she is currently writing in the “romcrom” (romance + crime + comedy). The world is ready for it.

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