For the discerning television viewer, European crime series are addictive.
Critical successes like the Scandi offerings The Killing and The Bridge, and the French series Spiral have brought dark, compelling stories to our screens. In contrast with previous cop dramas, an entire series focuses on a single crime and hands the best roles to women detectives, who are flawed, workaholics and above all, realistic. The latest addition to the canon is The Fall, whose second series, set in Belfast and starring Gillian Anderson, is showing on Sky's SoHo here.
But it's becoming apparent that they share another underlying feature which is more troubling: misogyny. Why oh why, viewers ask from behind the sofa, are all the murder victims women?
In Spiral, whose Season 5 is being broadcast in France, police are investigating the murder of a young mother and her daughter, found in a canal bound together with electric cable. The previous season focused on the trafficking of young women from eastern Europe, which was also a plot line in The Killing. The opening scene of The Bridge was the discovery of two women's bodies cut in half and left straddling the border between Sweden and Denmark.
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Could it be that these TV crime series reflect a trend in real life? Does the number of murdered women outweigh men? Not according to UK statistics, which say that in 2012 and 2013, more than two thirds (69 per cent) of murder victims were men, the same as in previous years. In France, the number of males who are murdered is four times as high as females. However, if you examine the figures for domestic violence in Europe, the murder statistics are reversed: the number of women killed by their male partner or a family member (55 per cent) exceeds the male victims. According to the latest UN study on the number of murders worldwide, out of 437,000 homicides committed in 2012 eight out of 10 victims were men. Ninety five per cent of the perpetrators were men.
In other words, ladies, it's safe to leave the house. These fictional series are just that - fiction.
But the onscreen misogyny is more subtle than that. Consider the first season of The Fall, with its creepy serial killer played by Jamie Dornan who stalks his young female victims before strangling them in bed. One commentator described the voyeuristic pattern as "a sort of mainstream rape-torture porn". In the second season the criticism has focused on the frequently skimpily clothed chief detective played by Gillian Anderson, who totters round crime scenes in high heels. Her freewheeling sex life - like that of chief inspector Laure Berthaud in Spiral - in which Anderson's character initiates relationships with both men and a woman, has also raised eyebrows.
The series creator Alan Cubitt, who is also director of the second season, said he sees The Fall as a feminist drama and would be mortified if there was anything remotely pornographic in the images. He fends off accusations of misogyny and explains that his objective was to explore the issue by dissecting "a certain kind of male view". He does admit that anything that sets out to explore a complex and difficult subject like that "always runs the risk of being held up as an example of it, rather than a critique of it". But if people think The Fall is misogynistic, he says, he would have failed abjectly. It's a fine line.
But I fear that through their choice of subject matter and its treatment, The Fall and other European crime dramas are in danger of making a hatred of women, their victimisation, objectification and even murder, a norm.