About three or four weeks ago, an ad came on for a show on Channel 10 called Harper’s Island that was going to run at 9.40 (after Rove). I’m not normally one to follow much TV (not on TV – on DVD, yes, if it’s got a good reputation). But the concept sucked me in. Twenty-five people go to an island, and one of them is going to be murdered every week. In the last week, we’ll find out who the murderer is.
Now, the reason this caught my attention was because this is the plot for a book that I still consider one of the greatest mystery stories of all time, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (which, depending on your age, you may have read under the older title Ten Little Indians and if you are really old – like the copy I first borrowed from a library in Brisbane – you may have read it under its original title Ten Little Niggers. Hmm . . . I wonder why they changed its title?)
The concept with the Christie story was quite simple. Ten people go to an island, for a variety of reasons. One thinks he’s invited to a reunion, another thinks it’s a party, another think it’s a business deal, etc. This little island, off the coast of England somewhere is a tiny rock that basically contains one large house and not much else. So it’s quite clear from the outset that there are only these 10 characters on the island.
That night, they’re all having a drink, and the butler (one of the ten) is asked to put on a record. The record announces that all of these people are criminals and committed a serious crime and that they’re all going to die for it. That said, one guy falls straight over dead with a poisoned glass.
And that, my friends, is the beginning of one of the greatest thriller romps in literary history. The characters are 2D, but who cares? As they all get killed off, one by one, the paranoia grows and grows. Because the killer must be one of these ten and there is no detective to abstract us from the tension and bring some objectivity. There’s just suspects. And even though you would think it might get easier to work out who the killer is as the numbers dwindle, it actually doesn’t. It gets harder and harder, and the denoument in the Christie book is so brilliantly over the top and unexpected (let’s just say she goes from 10 to 0) that it’s stuck in my mind for years afterwards.
So I’ve always kind of liked this model of thriller as a story. And there was a very clever spin on it with John Cusack a few years ago called Identity.
So I was all set to get into Harper’s Island. I’m still watching it, but it’s really a notch below the Christie, for the following reasons:
- First of all, it’s a large island off the coast of Seattle, and a whole bunch of people live there. So the killer could turn out to be some nut job that I’ve never seen who lives in the hills. I’m sure it won’t, but it could – and that takes away from the tension of the whole thing.
- The characters are stupid college types (they’re all out there for a wedding, so there’s a bunch of stereotypical groomsmen and stereotypical bridesmaids) so I don’t particularly care which one they bump off next.
- But most irritating of all, each episode is a day (starts in the morning, ends at night) and I’ve watched four of them so far and there’s been something like half a dozen people killed so far. Of those six, at least three (I think) came over on the boat with the original party and nobody – but nobody- has stopped to ask, “Hey, I wonder where Uncle So-And-So was that came over with us on the boat? I haven’t seen him anywhere!” I mean, geez, folks, if they’re your favourite relative or your bridesmaid or your friend or whatever they are – surely you would wonder where they are, right? Right? This killer must be scratching his head, thinking to himself, “How many people have I got to chop before they even notice I’m here? This is just stupid . . .”
Anyway, I’m obviously not the only one, because after two episodes, Channel 10 shifted it to the crazy hour of 1.25 am in the morning. I think I’ll just stick to it online from now. Maybe in the 5th episode, they’ll finally notice someone is missing. If they’re not all panicked by episode 8, I really think the murderer might as well give up – clearly these people are brain dead already.