Serial. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, chances are you’ve seen chatter about it in your preferred social media feed. It’s the new podcast from the folks at This American Life that previewed this fall.
For the past eleven weeks, over five million people have tuned in to hear about producer Sarah Koenig’s personal and journalistic quest to get to the bottom of the murder of 18-year-old Hae Min Lin. Lin’s ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed was convicted of the crime and sentenced to life in prison, a term he’s been serving for the past fifteen years. Koenig and her producers have spent over a year interviewing people (including Adnan himself), as well as sifting through court reports and testimonies. It’s a complicated, emotional case, and each week, Koenig waffles, her doubts endlessly circling and suffocating each other as new details fall into place. Did Adnan Syed kill his ex-girlfriend and then bury her body in Baltimore’s Leakin Park? This is the fundamental question that’s been haunting Koenig and exasperated listeners.
Maybe it’s because I edit crime fiction, but what’s been so fascinating to me is not this basic whodunit question, but the process. The chase. The quest. Instead of being frustrated by the lack of clarity expressed by many of the show’s critics, I appreciate the murkiness. We’ve been trained from books and TV shows like the excellent True Detective to crave careful narrative arcs and satisfying conclusions. We watch the suspense build, the body count rise, the detective risk his or her life, knowing that no matter how crazy and stressful things get, by the end all will be revealed. The bad guy will be captured. The innocent avenged. We will get our denouement, damn it.
But the thing to remember, dear listeners, is this is not a movie. Matthew Mcconaughey is nowhere in sight.
I seriously doubt Koenig will end the show with a definitive statement of guilt or innocence. And I hope she doesn’t.
If you want your crime neatly packaged, try reading a book.