We all need a little paradise
by Laura Gelder | 23 February 2017
Tonight is the last episode of Death in Paradise and all I can say is thank god it’s a bit more spring-like out there – I wont feel its loss quite so much now that we have light after work and daffodils and things. It’s strange, but this slightly preposterous programme, primarily concerned with murder, has got me through the bleak months of January and February.
I’m not the only one either – viewing figures consistently waver towards nine million! The Guardian is horrified by this and calls it ‘formulaic’, ‘patronising’ and, at best, 'meteorological escapism'. I say we all need some diversion at the moment and after watching Trump's last press conference I fervently appreciate a little predictability.
For those of you who haven’t watched it, let me sum it up: it’s Midsomer Murders/Miss Marple/Jonathan Creek. I realise this may not be selling it, stick with me, I’ll explain.
Its star is a bumbling British Detective Inspector (Kris Marshall until he was just replaced) dressed in terribly creased linen, perpetually looking slightly confused. His sidekick is a beautiful French-Caribbean woman called Florence (you have to say it with the accent) who gets away with wearing denim shorts to work – amazing. There are also officers Dwayne and JP, who provide a side dish of comedic value with their old/young, traditional/modern act. JP’s pretty cute too.
Death In Paradise is set on the fabulous, fictional Caribbean island of Saint-Marie - full of rum, sunshine, yellow sand and wavy palm trees. It’s only a small island but a hell of a lot of people seem to get bumped off, and in peculiar circumstances.
What generally happens is DI Humphrey Goodman goes in with his notebook and asks lots of questions. He puts the photos of the suspects up on a whiteboard and scratches his chin and paces whilst looking at it a lot. Florence calmly makes a few excellent suggestions. Dwayne is a bit dim but knows everyone and his goat on the island so is occasionally useful. JP is anxious to prove himself and knows his way around a computer.
After pursuing every lead and still not knowing who the murderer is, Florence or one of the officers will make an innocuous remark about how delicious coconuts are or why barking dogs are really annoying and, ping (cue the light bulb moment) there's a close-up on DI Goodman looking slightly less confused and bumbling about how “it all makes sense now”. The suspects are gathered and, in dramatic Poirot fashion, he reveals who and how.
I confess I knew nothing about Death in Paradise until I visited the island where it’s filmed, Guadeloupe. I was part of the first British fam trip to the island, which is mostly frequented by French tourists. Everyone we met assumed we were die-hard DiP fans because we were British and had bothered to visit instead of going to Antigua and St. Lucia. On more than one occasion I felt the need to pretend I’d at least seen it before – not least when I met its star Kris Marshall, who was charming and told us not to tell too many people how nice it is.
Guadeloupe’s combination of chilled out Caribbean and flamboyant French is just about perfect. I hate to use alcohol as an example of a positive French attribute but I must. Drinking wine over long and leisurely lunches is de rigeur in balmy Guadeloupe and dinner is preceded with an aperitif of ti punch, a punchy shot of rum, lime and sugar which you make to your own taste – and peril. The food isn’t fancy or fussy – think grilled fish, plantain, spicy cod fritters and curried chicken – but it's seriously good and the bread is crusty and abundant.
You don’t need to have watched Death in Paradise to appreciate Deshaies, the little fishing town which stands in as Honoré in the series. The town hugs the lush north west coast of Basse Terre, Guadeloupe’s second most populous island, and is reached by a steep road that winds down from the volcanic rainforest-smothered slopes of its national park. A long pier stretches out into the blue bay where fishing boats bob and red roofs rise higgledy-piggledy from the green.
The town is no polished film set. Some of the shop fronts are nicely painted in bright colours like mango and turquoise but some are rusted, peeling and weather-beaten. Tin-roofed shacks sell perfectly imperfect tropical fruits laid out on wonky trestle tables covered in brightly-checked madras cotton. You can climb up to the wooden deck of the police station (actually the church hall) and pose in front of the sign and you can even have a cold beer on the waterside deck at the show's Catherine’s Bar (actually called La Kaz) but otherwise its calm, unhurried and unpretentious.
We also visited Plage la Perle, the idyllic beach where Humphrey has his charmingly ramshackle hut. Down one end of this golden arc were the film crew while the rest of the beach was dotted with the odd local taking a dip. Apart from the hut and one little café selling fried fish at plastic tables, there is nothing but sand, water, sky and trees.
I admit, being privileged enough to visit Guadeloupe is my main reason for loving Death in Paradise. I think meteorological escapism is essential for most Brits, whether real or armchair. I'm not saying you couldn't set it in Croydon but it just wouldn't give you the same warm glow. There's something incredibly comforting about the combination of a tropical island and a scruffy, slightly barmy but ultimately kind bloke always managing to pull it together at the last minute. Perhaps this says more about me than popular culture...
Tonight’s episode may be the last one but, should anyone feel the need to forget the real world after that, apparently the whole back catalogue is available to watch on Netflix. Phew.
If you want to read more about la belle Guadeloupe, see our dedicated magazine here.
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