Counter Culture Blues, the latest Inspector Lewis mystery on PBS Masterpiece Mystery!, treats the viewer to three murders – a young boy, a rocker, and a music professor. This episode of Inspector Lewis kicks off to the third season and does not disappoint. Half the fun of mysteries set in England is witnessing the audaciousness of the characters and the entertaining display of British wit. Both are offered in abundance in this episode about aging rockers.
The murders coincide with the reappearance of Esme Ford, the front singer of a once hugely popular 70’s rock band, Midnight Addiction. Esme was thought to have killed herself 35 years ago, but much to the shocked surprise of Ritchie Maguire, the band’s leather-faced leader, she walks back into his life, hoping to ressurrect the band and duplicate their past glory. It was Esme, the “tart with the heart”, who had been the “enchantment who held the band together.” While Richie Maguire had recently attempted a solo CD, whose master had mysteriously been wiped clean, the members of the band were living richly off the proceeds of their past glory.
We first meet Inspector Lewis (Kevin Whately) at home and about to sit down to a microwave dinner, when he and Sergeant Hathaway (Laurence Fox) are called to investigate the illegal hunting of game near a church during Sunday service. The culprit is Richie, whose estate is nearby. Inspector Lewis knows the band’s history intimately, for in his youth he had been a huge fan. His surprise upon encountering Esme is as great as Richie’s, and it conjures up memories of a poster of Esme sans shirt and bra that he had purchased as a boy and hung in his room.
The rockers have not aged well, and the actors who play Richie (David Hayman), Bone (Zig Byfield), Mack (Hilton McRae), and Franco (Anthony Higgins) are as craggy as Charlie Watts, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, and Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones.
I won’t give too much of the plot away, since you can still see this episode online. This intelligent and often witty script was written by Guy Andre, who adapted the screenplay from a story by Nick Deare. The series itself is inspired by Colin Dexter’s’ Inspector Morse novels and is greatly enhanced by an excellent cast. Simon Callow portrays Vernon Oxe, the openly gay manager who claims that the band was his creation. Oxe’s sudden appearance in Oxford coincides with that of Esme Ford.
Joanna Lumley as Esme is superb, but then I am biased in her favor. I will always adore Joanna for her turn as Patsy Stone, the boozing, smoking, non-eating, free-loving character of Absolutely Fabulous. I could not help but laugh at Esme’s brazen reason for sleeping with two men on the same night – to assure them that she had not forgotten either of them. My only beef with Joanna as Esme was her obvious wig, which was is not Ms Lumley’s fault. For the viewer’s sake, could they not have found a better hair piece?
The plot of Counter Culture Blues is complicated, but still manages to hold the viewer’s interest. Sub plots abound. While they did not throw me off my scent (I figured out who the murderer was fairly early on), they added a richness and complexity to the world that Inspector Lewis and Sergeant Hathaway inhabit.
Richie’s daughter, Kitten (Perdita Weeks), has mysterious dealings with a nasty young man named Peter, which gives James Hathaway (Laurence Fox) something productive to do. Hathaway is no slouch, and he is on to Peter’s sordid schemes. His confrontation of the young man are among my favorite scenes in this production.
The mysterious death of Jason, the boy who was murdered at the gates of Richie’s mansion, and of two other charactes keep Inspector Lewis on his toes.
It turns out that free-loving Richie has a wife. Helen Baxendale as Caroline is given the best line in this episode. When asked by Inspector Lewis why she disappears for weeks on end, she says she can always tell when her husband is gearing up to have another affair and she wanted to give him the necessary space. “He’s like a dog, really. Needs exercizing.”
As usual the reader is treated to scenes in and around Oxford, always a delight, and Rebecca Front once againmakes her appearance as Chief Superintendent Jean Innocent, telling Lewis that “If my life is disagreeable, yours is going to be hell. “ Neither Lewis nor Hathaway can do their jobs without the sharp eyed skills of Drl Laura Hobson, capably played by Clare Holman. It would be lovely if she and Lewis got together, but that is my mothering gene working in overdrive.
The identity of the murderer is somewhat obvious, but the ending is satisfying nevertheless. Joanna Lumley is entertaining as ever and this episode is worth watching for her performance alone. If you want to see the series again, it will be shown online at this link starting August 30 and through September 12. The other episodes scheduled for Season III are:
- The Dead of Winter, September 5
- Dark Matter, September 12
- Your Sudden Death Question, September 19
- Falling Darkness, September 26
Needless to say, it is going to be a great September of Sundays with Inspector Lewis at PBS!