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Oxford University's campus is strangely empty in Your Sudden Death Question

The fourth installment of Inspector Lewis, Season III, starts off with an August Bank Holiday that has emptied Oxford University of professors, students and all but a handful of staff. A small group is assembling for a Bank Holiday Quizaholic Weekend.

Marcus Richards (Alan Davies) the quiz master

The members of the group introduce themselves in teams, including Ethan Croft, an obnoxious, boozing primary school teacher, whose once promising career as a linguist at Oxford U. was derailed by a sex scandal.

Nicholas Farrell and Timothy West play two Oxford professors on the Grey Guardian team

The teams include two older Oxford academics, two students, two young mothers, soldiers, and lawyers.

Alfie Wilkinson( Jack Fox) and Ava Taylor (Tabitha Wady) compete on Team "Toxic Debt"

The cash prize for winning the Quiz is £5,000 lbs, but before the first round even gets under way, Mr. Croft is found floating face down in an ornamental fountain. Lewis and Hathaway interview Jean Croft, the dead man’s stunned widow. She confesses to wanting to kill him for his infidelities. The viewer quickly eliminates her as a suspect, as do Lewis and Hathaway.

Susannah Doyle plays Jean Croft, grieving widow

They mull over the situation a bit more. Was the murder a crime of passion?

Pondering the murder suspects

Ethan’s old flame, Robyn, appeared at the event with her friend, Eve Rigby (Sally Bretton). Ethan is instantly smitten with Eve, and hardly gives Robyn a glance. Robyn realizes that he does not recall their relationship, when she was 14 to his 16. Later she appears to be angry. Could she have killed Ethan out of  jealous rage?

Could Robyn Strong (Ruth Gemmel), a lonely single mother, have killed the victim out of jealousy and passion?

Then Eve is killed, and Hathaway and Lewis must deal with a second body. They are convinced that the two murders are somehow connected. Could the two soldiers, British Army Lieutenant Diane Baxter and Color Sergeant Brian Kaye, have killed the victims on behalf of the government.

Diane Baxter makes an important admission.

As Lewis and Hathaway find out more about a secret project that Croft was involved with, it would not be out of line to suspect the soldiers of killing him on behalf of the Government.

Lewis informs the assembled suspects that they cannot leave until the murder is solved

Professor Milner’s young wife had the affair with Croft, which ended his career at Oxford.

Could Gwen Milner (Helen Grace) have a reason for murdering Croft?

As they wait for Hathaway and Lewis to solve the murders, the teams are allowed to compete in the Quiz game.

Sebastian Anderson (Alastair Mackenzie) and Jessica Neil (Emma Cleasby) are stuck on campus until the mystery is solved.

Different possibilities present themselves, including the Quiz organizer whose shady business practices might have been uncovered by Croft. Or was the mysterious project that he was working on as a linguist responsible for his death?

Lewis and Hathaway go over the clues.

A translator is enlisted to read Croft's foreign language documents.

One by one, the clues tumble into place and before the 90 minutes are up, Lewis and Hathaway have solved the murders and the quiz contestants can go home – all save the killer.

Spoiler Alert!:

I loved this episode for the continued deepening of the relationship between Lewis and Dr. Laura Hobson, and Lewis and Hathaway. Their personal back stories are revealed slowly, like peeling the layers of an onion one story at a time.

Hathaway retrieves his lovely guitar with the aid of Lewis.

Hathaway eavesdrops as Lewis calls Laura Hobson.

Dr. Laura Hobson (Clare Holman) understands loneliness every bit as well as Lewis.

The mystery of Your Sudden Death Question was splendid, and this time around I did not solve the murder until the end. I give this episode of Inspector Lewis, written by Alan Plater, three out of three Regency fans! You can watch the episode online at this link from Monday, September 20 to October 19, 2010.

Inspector Lewis, Season III

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Dark Matter, the third installment of season three of Inspector Lewis, is available online from September 13 through October 12.

Peaceful Oxford, or is it?

In this episode, Professor Andrew Crompton, an amateur astronomer and the Master of Gresham College, is found dead at the foot of the University Observatory stairs. Lewis and Hathaway investigate the dark goings on among family, friends, colleagues, and staff. Two murders, one in broad daylight, baffle them until a crucial piece of evidence is revealed. The initial murder is set against the backdrop of Gustav Holst’s The Planet Suite, Mars: The Bringer of War.

Roger Temple (Warren Clark) rides his bike to work

In fact, Holst’s fabulous music and the city of Oxford take a front seat as the murderer goes about doing dastardly deeds and Hathaway and Lewis canvas the streets and university looking for clues and talking to suspects.

Laura Hobson (Clare Holman) playing clarinet

We also learn more personal details about Dr. Laura Hobson, who plays 3rd clarinet at the gala memorial concert, which our detectives have paid to see but must leave as they pursuit the murderer. Before this happens, Lewis enlists Hobson to spy on her fellow orchestra members, notably Gwen Raeburn, also an astronomy lecturer; her husband, Sir Arnold; and the guest conductor Malcolm Finniston.

Lewis and Hathaway go over the clues

As I watched this particular episode I realized why I generally prefer shows produced for British television – middle aged people, indeed those who would be considered elderly, are allowed to find love and romance and are not relegated to stereotypical Golden Girl or old codger roles. The BBC employs skilled and seasoned actors to portray the characters, not some flavor of the month or pretty boy pinup.

Robert Hardy as Sir Arnold Raeburn

Actors like Robert Hardy (Sir Arnold Raeburn), Warren Clarke (Roger Temple), Sophie Ward (the grieving widow, Isobel),

Sophie Ward as Isobel Crompton

Diana Quick (Gwen Raeburn), and Annabelle Apsion (Babs Temple) are at the top of their game.

Annabelle Apsion as Babs Temple, the Crompton's housekeeper

It is simply a pleasure to watch them create a world in which I can immerse myself for an hour and a half.

Malcolm Finniston, guest conductor

Even the young actors, like Ruby Thomas, aren’t just cookie cutter pretty. They can hold their own against their more seasoned counterparts.

Ruby Thomas as Kate Cameron

I solved the murder mystery fairly quickly, but I didn’t care. Its the relationship between Inspector Lewis and Hathaway that keeps me in thrall and tuning in to PBS Masterpiece Mystery every Sunday night. In fact, these episodes give me an excess of joy.

It was nice to see Dr. Hobson wear a dress and pursue personal goals

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Watch the latest Inspector Lewis mystery, The Dead of Winter, on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery site from September 6 until September 19. Click here for behind the scenes videos.

The episode opens with a shooting at a re-enactment of a battle on the grounds of Crevecoeur Hall

The curious case leads back to Crevecoeur Hall, a vast, history-rich Oxford estate, and as it happens, the setting for much of Detective Sergeant Hathaway’s (Laurence Fox) youth. Hathaway reconnects with his past – and Scarlett Mortmaigne, the daughter of the estate’s owner. But is he also consorting with a main suspect? It’s a case that threatens to expose the shortcomings and secrets of a wealthy family, cloud Hathaway’s judgment and ultimately put his relationship with Detective Inspector Lewis (Kevin Whately) in jeopardy.

Hathaway is haunted by the death of a 10 year-old girl

The Dead of Winter, the second episode in the third season, opens with a melancholic Hathaway testifying in court about an atrocity commited towards a ten year old girl. He cannot shake off the image of finding her body in a water cistern. Inspector Lewis is unable to communicate with his friend, and the emotional gulf between the two partners widens. As Dr. Hobson observes caustically, “boys never let anyone in.”

"Boys never let anyone in", Laura Hobson observes

When Hathaway is called to a murder at Crevecoeur Hall, the estate where he spent the first 12 years of his life as the son of the estate manager, his past life comes tumbling back. As the story unfolds, we learn more about Hathaway’s childhood, and that he had once played with the butler (Pip Carter) another child on the estate, and young Lady Scarlett (Camilla Arfwedson), for whom he still carries a tendre and who fondly calls him “James the Just.” Her engagement to a rich man does not stop her from revealing to Hathaway how very much she still is attracted to him, but for James her confession is a painful reminder of “what might have been.” James the Just can see no reason for her preferring money over love, the choice she has made.

While attracted to Hathaway, Scarlett chooses money over love

The script weaves in these threads of James’s former life with current events and the murder of a doctor who had visited Crevecoeur Hall. As James investigates thecrime, the current estate manager of Crevecoeur Hall, whose wife had run away 20 years ago, commits suicide.

Hathaway and Paul Hopkiss, the butler and his former childhood friend

We meet an array suspects: the lord of the manor, Augustus Mortmaigne, the Marquess of Tygon (Richard Johnson); his wife, Selina Mortmaigne (Juliet Aubrey); her brother in law, Philip (Nathaniel Parker) with whom she is having an affair. Add a valuable painting that has been altered and that might hold clues, a Jesuit priest who knows more than he lets on, and a purring cat that Inspector Lewis rescues from the dead doctor’s home, and you have a fully fleshed mystery story populated with likely suspects. As both Lewis and Hathaway pursue the killer, both come at cross purposes.

Lewis pursues his own clues in the dead Dr's office

That last statement of the quote that opens this review is a bit misleading. While Lewis becomes exasperated with Hathaway, whose surpressed longings for Scarlett have gotten in the way of his judgment, he has not come to the point of breaking off their relationship, and he makes it clear that he is content with Hathaway as a partner.

The lord of the manor and those who live on his estate have many secrets to hide

This second episode in Season 3 is better than the first – more tightly written and much darker in tone. The final scene is filled with suspense, and I did not guess the murderer until just before the major clue about corn starch was dropped. For those who have missed the episode, you can watch it online from September 6 through September 19.

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In Counter Culture Blues, the church's peaceful Sunday sermon is shattered by the sound of gun shots on the estate next door.

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.

Richie (David Hayman) looks on as Franco (Anthony Higgins) sees Esme (Joanna Lumley) for the first time in 35 years.

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.

Just when Inspector Lewis thinks it is safe to sit down to a nice meal, duty calls.

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.

David Hayman as Richie Maguire

Anthony Higgins as Franco

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.

Zig Byfield as Bone

Hilton McRae as Mack

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.

Simon Callow as Vernon Oxe (with Anthony Higgins)

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?

Joanna Lumley as Esme

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.

Perdita Weeks plays Kitten, a girl with a secret and from whom a secret is being kept.

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.

Sergeant Hathaway interrogates creepy Peter

Peter (Harry Lloyd) shows no conscience

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.

Jason's friend, Declan (Daniel Kaluuya) bravely helps Inspector Lewis solve why the boy was murdered.

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.”

Caroline, Helen Baxendale, takes a pragmatic view on marriage.

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 scenes in and around Oxford are part of the background.

Rebecca Front as Chief Superintendent Innocent is both exasperated with Inspector Lewis and in awe of his skills.

Lewis and Hathaway depend on Dr. Hobson's (Clare Holman) findings to do their work.

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:

Needless to say, it is going to be a great September of Sundays with Inspector Lewis at PBS!

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For a review of Inspector Lewis Series III, 2010, Counter Culture Blues, Click Here.

The Point of Vanishing was this season’s last Inspector Lewis episode. What a fine way to end a fine season. If you have missed the episode, click here to view it online for one more week.
pointofvanishing
Here’s the episode’s synopsis: “Steven Mullan is found dead in his bathtub, the scalding water indicative of the white-hot rage that motivated the murder. Lewis recognizes Mullan as having been recently released from prison after having tried to kill celebrity atheist Tom Rattenbury while driving drunk. Mullan’s sentence may be over, but have the scars healed for the Rattenburys, especially daughter Jessica who remains in a wheelchair from the incident? Lewis and Hathaway find a postcard at the crime scene of a Renaissance painting inscribed with the words, “It was no dream.” But the case is about to take a surreal, dream-like twist, leaving Lewis and Hathaway drowning in questions about crimes of the past and the present.”

pointof_vanishing

Click here for Radio Times images of Kevin Whately as Inspector Lewis.

Episode One, Season II: And the Moonbeams Kiss the Sea

And the sunlight clasps the earth,
And the moonbeams kiss the sea –
What are all these kissings worth,
If thou kiss not me?

Lewis and Whately

Lewis and Whately

The first murder at the Boleian Library in Oxford in 500 years is nothing to dismiss. In fact, the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley is a key link to the murder of maintenance engineer Chapman (Darren Clarke) in the library and lovely student Nell Buckley (Emily Beecham), who is found floating in the river. How are these deaths connected? Inspectors Lewis (Kevin Whately) and Hathaway (Laurence Fox) are in a race against time to find out in “And the Moonbeams Kiss the Sea”, the first episode of the second season of Inspector Lewis.

Set in Oxford, the settings are stunning, with the story’s action occurring inside the Bodleian library, on the grounds of the university, and in and around that venerable city. The plot, while not particularly suspenseful, was complex and interesting enough to hold this viewer’s interest. Emily Beecham is especially appealing as the doomed student, Nell, and Tom Riley (Lost in Austen fans will remember his delicious portrayal of Wickham) is unforgettable as art student, Philip Horton, a murder suspect who is probably autistic.

PBS will be showing the Inspector Lewis series, season 2,  from August 30 to October 18th. Missed the first episode? Recent episodes are available online on PBS for two weeks after they aired in the U.S.
poster_moonbeams

poster_musictodieforEpisode Two, Music to Die for, Season Two

“Music to Die For”, the second episode of Inspector Lewis, Series 2 on PBS’s Mystery! did not disappoint, and in fact was among the best television I have watched in a long while. As with “And the Moonbeams Kiss the Sea”, this murder mystery is intelligent, restrained, witty, and informative. I learned about no-rules boxing and the Cold War intrigue in East Berlin in which informants caused the imprisonment (and deaths) of thousands of their friends, acquaintances, and family members. Add the setting of Oxford (I’ve seen more of the town in this series than during  my half day visit a decade ago), and your 90 minutes are well spent.

If you missed Episode two, you can watch it online until September 20th at this PBS link.

Episode Three, Life Born of Fire, Season 2

Will McEwan staggers into a church and takes his own life at the altar, leaving behind a suicide note cloaked in religious symbolism — “On the road from Gethsemane to Calvary, I lost my way” — and a pamphlet for a shadowy spiritual group “The Garden.” What would lead a young and faithful man to such desperation?

poster_bornoffire

I found this episode particularly fascinating because the story delves deeply into Hathaway’s past and his reasons for leaving the priesthood. Both Lewis and Hathaway are loners, as most detectives of mystery series seem to be these days, and I found the glimpses into their personal lives  intriguing. My only quibble with this episode was the sequence of the fire itself. Had it been set off by gasoline,  I doubt that it would have taken more than 2-3 minutes for the fire to rage out of control. The timing of those scenes was off just enough to distract me. The acting was, again, superb, and I thought I had solved the mystery, but I was wrong. The actual solution was so much better than my suspicions. I cannot praise this series enough.

Episode Four: The Great and the Good

the great and th good

The ending of this episode is haunting, with Inspector Lewis desperate to find information about his wife’s death. In this episode, Oxford is made up of two kinds of people: those who are on the “inside,” in this instance, Oxford dons, and those who will never enter that magical circle, like Inspector Lewis and Hathaway. Although the plot was a bit convoluted and at times hard to follow, I found myself watching the last ten minutes with keen interest. Once again, I failed to identify the killer, but once his identity was revealed, the story began to make sense.

Ep 5Episode Five: Allegory of Love

Tom Mison (2)

In this episode “Lewis and Hathaway get pulled into the world of Oxford’s literary elite, only to find that it harbors resentment and jealousy and at its center, holds terrible secrets beyond all imagination.” The stars are Tom Mison (Mr. Bingley in Lost in Austen) as Dorian Craig, bestselling novelist, and James Fox, professor. The ending of this episode is particularly memorable and upsetting.

Episode Six: The Quality of Mercy “Lewis and Hathaway methodically try to make sense of the murderous plot, but before they do, another death occurs with a Shakespearean sensibility. As the final act is about to unfold, the case takes an intensely personal turn for Lewis, bringing back traumatic memories and invoking a lesson in mercy.”

quality of mercy

Episode Seven: The Point of Vanishing

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