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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.”

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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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