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1 July 2024

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is deliciously old-fashioned television

This BBC series is delightful, knowing, involving, non-challenging, a touch silly. Suspend your disbelief, lie back and enjoy.

By Rachel Cooke

And so, the Young Adult summer takeover of television begins… On Amazon Prime, we have My Lady Jane, in which notable Tudors intermittently turn into animals (it’s based on a 2016 YA adult novel by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows); and on BBC iPlayer, we have A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, an adaptation of Holly Jackson’s 2019 bestseller of the same name. There will be hormones, frenemies and arguments about homework – and also a handy box set into which you may dive, the better to avoid Everything Else (you know what I mean by Everything Else). Watch alone, or with the marvellous young person in your life. Either way, you’ll have a modicum of fun, if not a full-blown riot.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, adapted by Poppy Cogan (Red Rose, The Fold) and directed by the estimable Dolly Wells, is set in a picture-postcard English village called Little Kilton and, to be honest, I’d quite like to move there, for the next six months at least. Maybe Leanne Fitz-Amobi (Anna Maxwell Martin), the droll and liberal-in-a-good-way mum of our heroine, Pip (Emma Myers), could adopt me. It seems so idyllic: not only pretty, but harmoniously mixed in terms of race and class, and not a Lib Dem poster in sight. But of course, appearances are deceptive. Inky darkness pulsates beneath its dappled surface: think Midsomer Murders with fewer character actors, more mobile phones and a slightly more (well, just about) convincing plot. Five years ago, a teenager called Andie Bell went missing. Soon afterwards her boyfriend, Sal, having seemingly confessed to her murder, killed himself. Bell’s body was never found.

Pip, a swot who wants to go to Cambridge and lacks some boundaries when it comes to asking very bald questions, has always been fascinated by the Andie Bell case – Little Kilton is a small place, and everyone knows everyone else – and now she decides to make it the focus of her EPQ (Extended Project Qualification) at school, which is something of a switch from her first idea (a feminist analysis of the gothic novel). Surely, nice Sal didn’t do it! In her bedroom she sets up a vast blackboard and covers it with mug shots and arrows, as if she’s really starring in Waking the Dead, and then she sets about interviewing – and pissing off mightily – as many witnesses as she can. This is slow work and it involves various minor humiliations; she has to dress up as a little star to work as a waitress at a garden party where one of her suspects will be in attendance. But on the plus side, Sal’s younger brother, Ravi (Zain Iqbal), with whom she teams up, is super-hot.

Myers is American, and her English accent is somewhat askew. But otherwise, this is pristine old-fashioned television: delightful, knowing, involving, non-challenging, a touch silly. All the YA tropes are here: mean girls and games of Charlie Charlie (the latter is like an Ouija board, except it requires only two pencils), spooky camping trips and gorgeous, unattainable boys, dodgy parents and concerned ones, too. I’m lapping it up (and I have WhatsApp-ed my niece E to instruct her to watch it immediately). Sometimes, this kind of escapism – if you’re an Old Adult as opposed to a Young One, what I’m talking about is basically a form of nostalgia – is just what the doctor ordered. Suspend your disbelief, like a hammock between two trees, and simply lie back and enjoy it.

It’s puzzling that Pip looks about 12, but drives around the frothy lanes in an old, brown Volvo. And it does seem… odd that the police apparently did not check Sal’s mobile phone as thoroughly as she does. But how thrilling to be given a teen heroine who’s very clever and doesn’t try to hide it (she has made a spreadsheet of Cambridge’s colleges, the better to work out which one she should apply to). Just for once, the BBC has dared to make a series for young people that doesn’t seem to regard the words “middle class” as a pejorative; that refuses to deem being a member of a book group (as Leanne is) as a form of disgusting privilege. Thanks to this, I imagine it will be a huge hit, but even if it isn’t, it’s a breath of fresh air: as refreshing as the woods where Pip walks the (warm, loving, nuclear) family dog.

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A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder 
BBC iPlayer

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This article appears in the 02 Jul 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Labour’s Britain