Good looks and very bad deeds

The Observer - The New Review - - TV + RADIO - @msmi­ran­da­sawyer Mi­randa Sawyer

Dirty John LA Times and Won­dery

Con­verg­ing Cul­tures Lit­tle Atoms

Put down your sur­veil­lance equip­ment, true-crime fans, I have an in­ter­est­ing new pod­cast for you.

is a six-part se­ries made by Dirty John the Los An­ge­les Times and Won­dery. Pulitzer-nom­i­nated in­ves­tiga­tive re­porter Christo­pher Gof­fard talks us through the ro­mance of De­bra and John. In 2014, De­bra Newell, an at­trac­tive fiftysome­thing di­vorcee, joins in search of true love. She finds it in the form of John Meehan, a good-look­ing anaes­thetist who is very keen, very soon. Still, so is Newell, and all is well. Un­til her chil­dren meet him…

What fol­lows is an in­trigu­ing, in- depth pic­ture of the strangest of re­la­tion­ships. Sev­eral times I found my­self shout­ing in­wardly, so ex­as­per­ated was I with I-still-love-him-though Newell. Do you know the phrase “feel­ings aren’t facts”? I kept think­ing of it as I lis­tened. Faced with an ar­ray of damn­ing de­tails (I’m not go­ing to re­veal them, but let’s say that Dirty John’s past didn’t make for re­lax­ing bed­time read­ing), Newell thought: “Oh, but he’s so nice to me, and he has an ex­pla­na­tion for every­thing, so it’s all go­ing to be just dandy… ” Un­sur­pris­ingly it wasn’t. One po­lice­man re­calls John as a “dev­il­tongued flim-flam artist”, an al­most Ray­mond Chan­dler-like de­scrip­tion.

Dirty John un­folds slowly, but with an aw­ful feel­ing of in­evitabil­ity. Like the best nov­els, you sense where you’re go­ing be­fore you get there. But this isn’t a story. It’s real. We hear from Newell and her chil­dren; we hear from Meehan’s old friends; we even hear his voice, on phone record­ings made by his ex-wife. The pod­cast was se­ri­alised in the LA Times, like a Dick­ens story. It’s also an on­line “project”, which means you get pho­to­graphs too. It’s all very noir (the pho­tos are in black and white, the let­ter­ing is like that used for

LA Con­fi­den­tial ), and it gives you that un­easy feel­ing of queasy ex­ploita­tion that only true crime can en­gen­der. Hav­ing said all that, if you lis­ten to the pod­cast, as I did, sans ex­tras, you won’t be dis­ap­pointed. To me, it’s less film noir and more cau­tion­ary tale. Feel­ings aren’t facts. Good looks don’t can­cel out bad deeds. An­other new se­ries, Con­verg­ing

Cul­tures, started last week. From the mak­ers of Lit­tle Atoms, the lon­grun­ning ideas and cul­ture pod­cast,

Con­verg­ing Cul­tures takes the no­tion that science and art op­er­ate as en­tirely sep­a­rate en­ti­ties and ex­plodes it. Broad­cast on on­line dig­i­tal sta­tion NTS Ra­dio, the first episode con­cerns elec­tric­ity and Mary Shel­ley’s

Franken­stein; the sec­ond, out next week, is about the un­con­scious and – oddly – also men­tions anaes­thetists. “The three As of mod­ern medicine,” says one ex­pert, “are an­tibi­otics, anaes­the­sia and ad­he­sive tape”. In­ter­est­ing stuff.

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