02 Mar West Cork – Audible Original Series | Podcast Review
Back in January I was reading through Vulture’s list of 2018 podcasts. I came across “West Cork” – an Audible original series, and was immediately intrigued. One problem though, I had to wait until February to listen to it.
West Cork delves into the past and investigates the murder of a French woman, Sophie Toscan du Plantier (awesome name) in rural Ireland during Christmas in 1996. It was a brutal murder that happened in front of her holiday home in Schull, West Cork. The murder in such a quiet area gripped the Irish media and by the sounds of it, Ireland on the whole, for years. To this day the murder has gone unsolved.
By now, it’s a well documented fact on this blog that I have a penchant for true crime. True crime set in Ireland, though? Yes, you can be about 90% certain I’ll be interested in that. I’ve written before about a UK true crime series, They Walk Among Us, and how the fact it focuses specifically on UK true crime brings about a very close-to-home feeling. True crime set in rural Ireland travels just that little bit closer to home for me though.
My Mum is from a very rural part of Co. Mayo in Ireland, and I grew up spending most of my summers and school holidays, in what is often referred to colloquially as the “feck-arse of nowhere.” There’s no house number, no street name, no neighbours for a good few miles up the narrow country road – in short, it’s so wonderfully secluded.
So, when Jennifer Forde and Sam Bungey, the creators of West Cork, describe the country lanes of Schull in Cork, it felt very vivid for me. Of course, most people have been in a rural area at some point in their lives – it’s not difficult to envision the seclusion – I just feel a strong nostalgia with Ireland’s countryside, associating it with so many happy memories. And because of this, West Cork was an extremely unnerving but incredibly gripping listen for me.
West Cork is comprised of 13 episodes, all around 30-40 minutes each. I binge-listened my way through the series in less than a week, engrossed by the story, rapidly switching between sadness, anger and disbelief as each episode was ticked off.
I’ve tried to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible because I liked going into this podcast with an open mind. For those with no prior knowledge of the Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder case, the first episodes present the context of West Cork as a secluded tourist retreat. The tourists are referred to locally as “blow-ins” and Sophie Toscan du Plantier was one of West Cork’s so-called blow-ins.
The series is adept at exploring all lines of enquiry in great detail. We are introduced to the case as being one with very little reliable leads to go on, one that is frustratingly foggy and one for which evidence wasn’t handled particularly well by the police force. Then, 5 episodes in, an individual is considered as being the prime suspect – another “blow-in” from England. The whole series really hinges on this moment. The whole murder case itself really hinges on it. And it completely poisoned whatever open-mindedness I started with.
The series presents a small community as being swept up by the drama of such a saddening murder case. And a need to understand Sophie, who was by all accounts, a quiet woman who kept mostly to herself. No-one in the Schull community knew her particularly well. She had a husband and children back in France and everyone wanted to know why she was staying in her holiday home in remote Ireland so close to Christmas. Why was she not in France with her family? This is just one peculiarity in a case full of peculiarities.
We hear first-hand accounts from the members of the Schull community and other surrounding areas. These accounts are both current day accounts and first-hand accounts from back in the 1990’s. Exploring this case, it’s easy to become as hell-bent on a need for answers as the locals were at the time. In a way, you experience their hysteria through how it’s brought to life so adeptly in the series.
Forde and Bungey are experts at providing you with the information, getting you settled into an idea and then suddenly pulling the rug out from under your feet. Their series really causes you to question the satisfying feeling that comes about when you decide on something with certainty in this case.
I swayed my opinion so many times throughout the series. Starting open minded, by around episode six I became certain that the prime suspect was guilty. Then I got annoyed by how outrageously irritating the prime suspect comes across in all the super interesting interviews with Forde and Bungey.
By around episode 10 my annoyance had subsided and transformed into doubt, the confidence in my own verdict had fallen to the wayside as more information emerged. By the end, it felt as though all possible avenues had been exhausted and I couldn’t settle on anything. West Cork deftly weaves the many threads of this complex and enduring quest for answers, never settling on anything definitively. Quoting one interviewee in the series, trying to crack this case is like “chasing a ghost.”
There was a point in West Cork where Sophie’s memory became eclipsed by the quest for answers. A turning point where exploring the details of the case transformed into exploring the prime suspect’s life. All involved in the case became so hell-bent on securing a conclusion that the the reason behind it all, felt out of focus.
Forde and Bungey’s vivid portrayal of rural Ireland places you on those rural back roads and makes you desperate for answers. The dozens of interviews both recent and back in the 90’s, often conflict with one another on information. They really urge you to consider the truth as you try to weave through all the varying versions of truth that emerge.
West Cork is on the whole, a truly engrossing listen. Also, important, it’s FREE on Audible until May! This was such a pleasant surprise ’cause after waiting patiently for its release, I was totally prepared to pay at least a tenner and not blink an eye.
Anyway, GO LISTEN TO IT.