Year Released: 2006-2015
Starring: Kevin Whately, Laurence Fox, Clare Holman, Rebecca Front
(NR, 95 minutes per episode)
Genre: Mystery and Suspense, Drama
“This is Oxford. Things always mean something in Latin.” Inspector Lewis
The manicured lawns, lush gardens, and cobbled walkways of Oxford hide some pretty nasty murders, and the assorted dons and tutors, despite their plummy vowels and intellect, can be just about as evil as the rest of the world. It’s a good thing that Inspector Lewis and his trusty sergeant are there to put things right.
Lewis (Kevin Whately), you might remember, started as the junior partner to Colin Dexter’s erudite Inspector Morse. Lewis was the affable but somewhat plodding Watson to the brilliant and melancholy Morse/Holmes. So for a long while Different Drummer avoided the Inspector Lewis series, thinking it would be bland with the “second banana” in the lead.
Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, I think the Lewis series in even better than the Morse series that predates it. Somehow the shy wallflower Lewis comes into his own here, not by trying to be like Morse, but by more fully becoming himself.
Morse, an Oxford dropout, seemed to hold the Oxford academics in awe. It was a world that ultimately shunned him, and he wore that his outsider status with an almost tragic cynicism.
Lewis, a working class man, relishes his outsider status, and regards the snobbish Oxford academics like some foreign species that would have become extinct in the real world. Part of the fun of watching Lewis is his complete disregard for their status. He is not intimidated by their esoteric knowledge and or obvious arrogance. In fact, he disdains the Oxford dons as much or more than they do him. He handles their preening self-importance mostly by ignoring it. Or shrugging it off.
This is Oxford. Things always mean something in Latin.
Sergeant James Hathaway (Laurence Fox) is Lewis’s perfect foil. Cambridge educated, he is like Morse, an outsider here at Oxford, where they look down on that “inferior” institution. Very private and taciturn, we only learn about him in dribbles, often in connection with cases that somehow bring up Hathaway’s past - such as why he left his training for the priesthood, or that he had been Head Boy at his “posh” school and nicknamed “W.C.” – short for Wolfgang Christ, since he didn’t know whether he wanted to be Mozart or Jesus. Hathaway also plays the guitar, which the actor does in real life.
He is a scholar and often provides esoteric knowledge to help solve the case, but Hathaway does so in a humble and offhanded manor that sets him apart from the Oxford crowd. “Together we make a pretty good detective,” Lewis tells him. “I, of course, am the brains.”
The plots are complicated but not nearly so befuddling as those in Midsomer Murders. Of course, if the Oxford campus were as deadly as the series would have us believe – inhabitants routinely hanged, garroted, stabbed with swords, Shakespeare props, or stakes, as well as drowned in a bath or found floating in an outdoor fountain, not to mention nearly chopped to death in a pool of human waste – then the great and the good would cease sending their precocious heirs there. But suspended disbelief and all that.
Amazon Prime features 8 seasons of the series – all but the final one, I think, and each season has at least 4 or 5 movie length episodes. Each episode reveals a bit more about each character, including the somewhat dishy coroner, Dr. Laura Hobson (Clare Holman), who little by little draws grieving widower Lewis out of his shell of self-imposed loneliness.
Finally, there is something refreshing about seeing the solid symmetry of the medieval university – the oldest in the English-speaking world – still standing, a symbol of beauty and stability in a world that seems more and more chaotic.
So, turn on the telly and put on a cup of tea. Lewis and Hathaway may bruise a few egos, but they get the job done.
Inspector Lewis is no more impressed by “posh” food than he is by Oxford’s “posh” academics. More than likely, we see him nibbling on some fried haddock with English “chips” wrapped in white butcher paper, cradled as reverently as a bouquet of flowers. Sure he eats the fish, whether strolling through the cobbled streets or sitting on a park bench, but it's always the chips that get Lewis’s full attention.
Of course, “chips” are not those crispy wafers that go by that name here in America. Instead, they are what we call French Fries here. Oh, and potato chips are “crisps” in Britain. Confused yet?
The recipe is from Different Drummer’s own Appetite for Murder: A Mystery Lover’s Cookbook.
English Fish and Chips
4 or 5 potatoes, cut lengthwise, into 1/2-inch strips
1 pound fish fillets, cut into 2 by 1 1/2-inch pieces
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp vinegar
2/3 cup water
Malt or cider vinegar
Heat oil (2 to 3 inches) in deep fat fryer to 375. Fill basket 1/4 full with potatoes; slowly lower into hot oil. (If oil bubbles excessively, raise and lower basket several times.) Use long-handled fork to keep potatoes separated. Fry potatoes until golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain potatoes; place in single layer on cookie sheet. Keep warm; repeat.
Pat fish dry with paper towels. Mix flour and 1/2 tsp salt. Mix baking soda and 1 tbsp vinegar. Stir vinegar mixture and water into flour mixture; beat until smooth. Dip fish into batter; allow excess batter to drip into bowl. Fry 4 or 5 pieces at a time until brown, turning once, about 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels.
Set oven control to broil at 550 degrees. Broil potatoes 6 inches from heat until crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle with vinegar and salt
Recipe Source: Appetite for Murder: A Mystery Lover’s Cookbook