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Murder Among the Spires: An Advance Review of Season Two of "Inspector Lewis"

Inspector Morse's dogged former sidekick Robbie Lewis (Kevin Whately) returns this weekend with seven new crime-packed mysteries set in the heart of Oxford's academic community of scholars, dons, and students.

Inspector Lewis (or Lewis as it's known as in the United Kingdom) kicks off on Sunday night (part of PBS' Masterpiece Mystery) with "And the Moonbeams Kiss the Sea," in which Lewis finds himself enmeshed in an investigation involving art forgery, gambling addicts, and calculatedly brutal murder.

I had the opportunity a few weeks back to watch both the first two sensational installments of Inspector Lewis' second season and was immediately sucked into the clever plotting, deft characterizations, and witty banter between Lewis and his junior partner, the erudite DS Hathaway (Laurence Fox). (Confession: I attended Oxford University and met my wife there, so the setting alone for me is worth the price of admission.)

The seven episodes of Inspector Lewis which are slated to air Stateside are actually comprised of the series' second and third seasons, which PBS is airing back-to-back here. (However, I am curious what happened to the third season's fourth episode, "Counter Culture Blues," which doesn't appear to be on the schedule.) As we begin with "And the Moonbeams Kiss the Sea," we find Lewis still grimly attempting to collar Oxford's criminals and keep the peace in the city of dreaming spires, despite his loathing of posh intellectuals.

He's also still trying to process the unexpected death of his partner Inspector Morse, which continues to haunt him to this day. Morse's death--or rather his life--also play a role in Lewis' second episode, "Music to Die For," and it's a somber note of reflection that underpins the relationship between Robbie Lewis and Morse.

In the first episode of the season, written by Alan Plater and directed by Dan Reed, it's a rather puzzling case of forgery, murder, and performance art that's nagging Lewis and Hathaway. It's a fantastic installment that rather marvelously uses a similar plot point to USA's upcoming crime drama White Collar to rather ingenious effect and explores the art community of Oxford with great aplomb. As an added bonus, this installment also happens to guest star former Brittas Empire castmates Pippa Haywood and Julia St. John and parts of it are set within the bowels of the venerable Bodleian Library.

The absolutely riveting second episode, "Music to Die For," written by Dusty Hughes and directed by Bill Anderson, offers a mind-bending mystery as Lewis finds himself personally involved in an ongoing investigation surrounding the murder of an aging gay lecturer (Niall Buggy), illegal underground boxing tournaments, espionage, and a decades-old secret that led one academic to his death at the hand of East Germany's ruthless Stasi. And, as mentioned above, the case hits home for Lewis as it dredges up two very painful deaths: that of his partner Morse and his wife. As Lewis encounters a second chance at romance, we're given the opportunity to see his character in a new light and gain a greater understanding at the recesses of pain that are etched onto Lewis' consciousness. (Also keep an eye out for Merlin's Bradley James to turn up as an Oxford student/bare-knuckles brawler.)

While Lewis' first season provided a fun return to the Oxford-set mysteries of Morse, these episodes establish Lewis as a force to be reckoned with in his own right and also establish Inspector Lewis as its own unique crime series. While it's still connected to Inspector Morse in spirit, it's also able to forge a new identity for itself at the same time. It's no mean feat to pull off a spin-off of a much beloved series, but Inspector Lewis manages to do so here with grace and skill, not to mention some well-crafted mysteries that would stump Morse himself.

Much of that credit goes to Whatley for his realistically sullen performance; he manages to make Lewis a lovable and sympathetic curmudgeon who's set in his ways and reeling from loss but still able to nick the right guy in the end and even crack a joke or two. Likewise, Lewis' grumbling is perfectly balanced by Fox's nuanced performance as the well-read Hathaway, whose bookish knowledge makes him a fantastic counterpoint to Lewis' street smarts.

Ultimately, the smart and sly murder mysteries that Lewis and Hathaway tackle each week are the ideal way to spend your Sunday evening and the perfect antidote to the sweltering summer heat.

Inspector Lewis's seven new episodes launch this Sunday evening at 9 pm ET/PT as part of PBS' Masterpiece Mystery. Check your local listings for details.

Comments

Unknown said…
I was at Oxford in July (for a one-week course at Christ Church) and while photos of Morse & Lewis are at many, many pubs from scenes shot there, I was tickled to finally see one with Lewis and Hathaway at the White Horse. Looking forward to seeing the new season(s).
Brandon said…
Nothing beats a good British mystery and I'm happy to hear that the Inspector Lewis series doesn't disappoint.
Anonymous said…
Thank goodness, Lewis is back! Cheers!
Anonymous said…
A wonderfully written and acted drama. I absolutely love it! I confess to having a bit of a crush on Lewis. :)
Devi said…
Fantastic series, really gripping although one wonders at really the number of deviants at Oxford!!
Terry said…
Just watched the show here on PBS. Miss Morse terribly, and am thrilled with Lewis and Hathaway. Love the reverse rolls of Hathaway being the academic!! They are both great actors.

They really pulled this one off, after such a smash hit like Morse.

Thanks for such great entertainment!!
Unknown said…
I loved Morse and Lewis but I love Lewis and Hathaway even more. They play off each other just wonderfully. Robbie is the dogged "copper" and James is his cerebral (and incredibly foxy) counterpoint. I have all 11 episodes and I watch them over and over...can't get enough. I'm already impatient for Series 4!

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