The Podcast Hour for Saturday 29 September 2018
Serial season 3: judging US justice. CBC's The Teenage Taxidermist. A murder mystery? Death In Ice Valley. And the world's biggest art theft: Last Seen.
Serial's coverage of a Baltimore murder case became a notable moment in podcasting history, the medium's first crossover entertainment hit when it started in 2014.
But Season 2, a more nuanced story about the US serviceman Private Bowe Bergdahl who was held by the Taliban for 5 years in Afghanistan and Pakistan, didn't quite hit the same heights.
Serial's Season 3 started last week, and three episodes in nobody can accuse the team of lacking ambition, or of trying to revert to a tried and tested formula. Because the subject- the US criminal justice system- couldn't be much bigger, or more complex.
Whereas Season 1 focused on one single, extraordinary case, Season 3 looks at the often humdrum, high volume world of daily life in the hulking Justice Center in Cleveland, Ohio for insights into how the wider machinery of justice is working.
Given free rein to record throughout the courts and their corridors, the reporting team of Sarah Koenig and Emmanuel Dzotsi spent more than a year gathering material. And they've uncovered an often unseen world of plea bargains and wheeling and dealing, where the vast majority of cases never get to trial, where right and wrong can get lost in the push for a speedy outcome, and where judges can exercise broad powers with little oversight.
Meanwhile there's an entrenched and very visible racial component to this too, a divide between the primarily black defendants and the predominantly white lawyers and judges who try them and represent them. So in Episode 1 a shameful truth is spelled out: 'it never helps to be black, it never hurts to be white'.
We play some of an early scene in Episode 1 "A Bar Fight Walks Into the Justice Center" where Sarah Koenig takes the lift that carries everyone around the Justice Center's cluster of multi-storey, brutalist, concrete towers.
Also an excerpt from Episode 2 called "You've Got Some Gauls" with Emmanuel Dzotsi spending time in the courtroom of an outspoken Judge called Daniel Gaul at the sentencing of a 19-year-old man convicted for driving a stolen car after a police chase.
Tristan Meyer Odell is a typical Canadian teenager with an unusual hobby: he's into taxidermy.
And even though stuffing dead animals isn't perhaps the pastime you'd choose for your offspring, his parents are totally on board!
The Festival starts next week in Chicago: it's basically a fortnight-long celebration of audio storytelling with live podcast events, speakers and prizes, and we'll be playing a few of the winners on next week's show.
The badly burned body of a woman is discovered in a valley in Norway.
Arranged around her is an odd assortment of objects; a single rubber boot, burnt paper, and plastic bottles containing water. In a strange twist, all the labels have been removed from her clothes as if she, or somebody else, was trying to obscure her identity.
It sounds like the start of some dark TV crime drama or a detective novel, but this grisly tragedy is a real-life mystery that's remained unsolved for nearly 50 years.
So who was this unidentified woman? Was it murder or suicide? And could advances in forensic science, including in DNA analysis, help solve this cold case?
These are some of the questions that the 10-part series 'Death In Ice Valley'- a co-production between the BBC World Service and the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK- sets out to answer.
We then speak to Jon Manel, the BBC World Service's Podcast Editor who commissioned the series, about how creating a sense of place through sound design and getting listeners involved have been important elements in the project.
Check out the Death In Ice Valley Facebook group (with 17,619 members and counting!)
What's on your headphones? Jon Manel's listening recommendations:
Nearly 30 years ago, thieves posing as police officers broke into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston and made off with 13 artworks in a robbery lasting 81 minutes.
The total value of the heist in today's market? A cool US$500 million making it the biggest art theft of all time. And despite a $10 million reward, no arrests have ever been made, and none of the art's ever been recovered.