Good looks and very bad deeds
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 match.com 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.