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Armchair detectives and amateur sleuths - the unsavoury side of our obsession with crime TV series and podcasts

The explosion of crime-related TV series and podcasts - Serial recently set a podcast world record - along with the huge amounts of time we now have to pursue them, has made armchair detectives and amateur forensic scientists of us all. But, asks Donal Lynch, are these obsessions really victimless crimes?

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Sarah Koenig, right, is the host of 'Serial', a podcast which looked into the case of Adnan Syed, left. Syed, who has always maintained his innocence, was convicted of the murder of Hae Min Lee

Sarah Koenig, right, is the host of 'Serial', a podcast which looked into the case of Adnan Syed, left. Syed, who has always maintained his innocence, was convicted of the murder of Hae Min Lee

US hit TV show 'Law and Order'

US hit TV show 'Law and Order'

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Sarah Koenig, right, is the host of 'Serial', a podcast which looked into the case of Adnan Syed, left. Syed, who has always maintained his innocence, was convicted of the murder of Hae Min Lee

We're all amateur armchair detectives now. From Anne Enright who pondered the Madeleine McCann disappearance by measuring distances on Google Earth and ruled out the possibility of wife swapping (because "one of the wives had brought her mother along"), to Coleen Rooney whose 'Wagatha Christie' moment gripped the Twitterverse last year - nobody is immune to the grim joy of freelance sleuthing.

Week after week, TV detectives move laconically through their scenes, and we sink deeper into our couches, drinking it in like warm cocoa and indulging ourselves in whodunnit parlour games. True crime has migrated from pulp fiction and trashy women's magazines, to become a respectable and mainstream genre, while a neverending stream of procedural shows have helped us gain a kind of vicarious expertise on admissibility and evidentiary rules.

Thanks to Line of Duty, we know about being questioned by an officer of one rank senior. We hazily understand about blood coagulation times, DNA evidence and criminal body language, and we are pretty sure we have most crimes long figured out before a verdict is announced. Indeed, some of us are now such crime savants that we don't even need an investigation. Whether in fiction or in real life, my mother, for instance, "just knows" when someone is guilty, because they have "that face". The rest of us must skill-up using TV, however.