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6 Degrees Entertainment

'Masterpiece Mystery: Complete Inspector Lewis'
(Kevin Whately, Laurence Fox, et al / 2-Disc DVD / NR / 2011 / PBS)

Overview: Inspector Robert Lewis (Kevin Whately) is back on familiar ground-Oxford, England-though not all is as it was. Five years after the death of his long-time partner, the legendary Inspector Morse (John Thaw), Lewis is trying to prove himself to his dubious new boss while rebuilding his life following the hit-and-run death of his wife. To do that, he must confront his past, his future, and his new younger partner, the brilliant and distant Detective Sergeant James Hathaway (Laurence Fox). This complete set of Inspector Lewis mysteries, inspired by the Inspector Morse novels of Colin Dexter includes the Pilot, Series 1, 2, 3, 4.

Season 1+2 DVD Verdict: I loved, loved all the Inspector Morse episodes and was soooooo happy to see that Inspector Lewis has been 'born' for our TV viewing pleasures. Hence, what we have here is an 'Inspector Lewis' collection, inclusive of the pilot and complete first and second seasons (11 episodes, in total).

And, straight from the off, it's not that he strives to live up to the legacy of his late long-time partner, the legendary Inspector Morse (John Thaw), but moreover can't seem to escape him here in Oxford. And, for the record, and much like Midsomer, how such complicated murders keep happening, and how anybody still lives in these two areas safely is beyond me!

Anyway, in the pilot (2005), Lewis is fresh of the plane from a few years spent in British Columbia heading up their task force (to get away from the death of Morse and then his wife in a hit and run accident), and into the waiting arms of DS James Hathaway (Laurence Fox). And, as paid comment to above, his first case (still clothed for the sunshine) is an old, unfinished Morse case!

Laurence Fox as DS James Hathaway is simply brilliant as Lewis' "bag man," and carries his performance high on shoulders of granite; his vocal tone both alluring and uber intelligent.

Now, as much as this collection is the first and second seasons, well, it's a little more complicated than that re: the way they were released in the UK! Indeed, following the pilot in 2005, a first series of three further episodes was broadcast in February/March 2007. A second series of four episodes aired in early 2008. A third series of four episodes was aired on ITV1 and ITV-HD from March/April 2009. A fourth series aired throughout the UK from May 2, 2010, and a fifth series has been confirmed by ITV which will air in 2011. Here in the US, the show has also been broadcast on PBS in the United States but as, as we know, 'Inspector Lewis' and shown as part of Masterpiece Mystery.

OK, are we all caught up ... good, so let's tell you about the episodes, shall we. 'Whom The Gods Would Destroy' is first up and Lewis and Hathaway are soon investigating a murder involving a group called the Sons of the Twice Born - named after an epithet of Dionysus relating to his birth, whose activities are shrouded in Greek codes, quotes from Nietzsche and a Dionysian fondness for drugs. Come the final plot twist, well, it's all a little neat but works well.

In 'Old School Ties,' when an ambitious Oxford student is found dead in her hotel room after inviting a reformed computer hacker to speak at the Union, Lewis and Hathaway are called in to investigate. Lewis dislikes the speaker from the off, even though they are both Geordies, but he knows best; as always! We also learn more about his partner, Hathaway: who is shown to be a speed reader and he plays guitar in a church band. "I'd like to nick that Professor," says Lewis. "What for?" inquires Hathaway? "For being a pompous idiot!" Also, stay till the very end as it plays out with a very 'cute' scene between the two officers!

In 'Expiation,' Lewis and Hathaway investigate the alleged suicide of a housewife living in Summertown. And wow, we get it straight off the bat and not some 10 mins in this time! It's the tail of two married households playing partner swapsies! Lewis gets his first kiss since his wife's death, but he still can't get her horrid death out of his head. The actual whodunit is obvious, but the way they get to it is clean and breezy.

In 'And The Moonbeams Kiss The Sea,' Lewis and Hathaway investigate the death of a maintenance engineer found shot in the head in the basement of the Bodleian Library. This is a slow paced episode, beware, but it is not without its quips: "You know what we've got here, don't you," Hathaway asks Lewis "A body in the library!" A search of the dead man's house reveals some valuable books having been 'borrowed,' with further probing exposing a scam involving two Oxford academics - of course. But at least this comes with a truly unexpected twist ending!

In 'Music To Die For,' Lewis and Hathaway are called in to investigate a boxing scam, a close link to Lewis' old boss, Inspector Morse, and a love triangle linked to the German Stasi. Here, another quick death gets us off and running and soon we are knee deep in the world of Morse again! This is a complex episode that even I had trouble keeping up with detail wise! "Sometimes I worry about your taste in music," Lewis quips at Hathaway. "Sometimes I worry about your taste in women," he retorts!

In 'Life Born Of Fire,' when the investigation circles around a devout young Christian; who is seen desecrating a church before committing suicide on its altar, when he arrives, Hathaway recognizes him as Will McEwan, an old school friend. With the running theme here of whether or not Hathaway is gay, it gets a little bogged down in that, but still manages to spin out a great episode. "This is Oxford. Something always means Latin in Oxford!" muses Lewis. The ending is great and includes a great reveal before the true ending comes creeping up upon us!

In 'The Great And The Good,' following the rape of a teenage girl, Lewis and Hathaway stumble across the curious private dinner party of high school computer technician Oswald Cooper - who ends up being brutally murdered and castrated after supposedly entertaining several highly respected society figures. Featuring, albeit it for not very long, the brilliant actor Jason Watkins ('Being Human') as Oswald Cooper, the episode goes very deep. "Chippy copper antics have no place in Oxford," states Chief Superintendent Jean Innocent (Rebecca Front) to Lewis, as he tries a few off-the-map in-roads to find clues. The ending is, well, VERY emotional, trust me!

In 'Allegory of Love,' a Czech barmaid is found slashed to death by an antique Persian mirror, paralleling an incident in a newly published fantasy novel Boxlands. And when the author's fiancée finds her life under threat from a shadowy stalker, Lewis suspects that the first murder was a case of mistaken identity. The original mirror killing is gruesome to watch: "I assume she was killed by the mirror?" Hathaway asks Dr. Laura Hobson (Clare Holman), to which she retorts, "On reflection, I'd say so!" A slow mover of an episode, a lot of pieces have to come together before the twist ending.

In 'The Quality Of Mercy, ' a preview performance of a student production of The Merchant of Venice is cut short when the actor playing Shylock is stabbed to death. Lewis and Hathaway are working their way through a lengthy list of suspects when another person connected to the play is killed. "Do you have a lot of flings?" Lewis asks a female suspect. "This is Oxford," she shrugs. "About average, I'd say!" But, this episode is more to do with the fact that a separate investigation involving a con man reveals the driver of the car that led to the death of Lewis' wife in the hit and run! "I've had to put up with a lot of Oxford bollocks on this case," he spits at the end, but deep inside knows that he is finally free of one previously-unknown burden.

In the final episode, 'The Point Of Vanishing, Lewis and Hathaway look into the murder of a man found drowned in his VERY HOT bath tub! The man is first identified as a man who once attempted to murder Tom Rattenbury, a celebrated atheist, but instead crippled Rattenbury's daughter, Jessica. But, as is the case in most all these episodes, not everything is what it initially seems. Also, a 31 year-old female office is given the title of Inspector above Hathaway, which rankles him, but (as it turns out) he is more invested in her as a person than the thought of her over-stepping him in the job! A Renaissance painting, The Hunt in the Forest (also known as simply The Hunt) by the Italian artist Paolo Uccello, is a key clue in the mystery.

Season 3 DVD Verdict: In the first episode, 'Counter Culture Blues,' Lewis finds himself in the unfortunate position of policing the heroes of his youth when he's sent to censure a rock legend for firing off his hunting rifle during the local Sunday service. But then, as a fan, he runs into the supposedly-dead figure of the bands singer, Esme Ford (played in fine form as usual, by the lovely Joanna Lumley).

Of course, it's not long before people are dying left, right and center, and it's up to Lewis and Hathway to figure it all out. This episode also features the great Simon Callow in a role born for him to play! It also contains the great spoken comeback of, "Yes, that's her ... the ditz with the tits!" And, when his immediate superior (above Lewis) asks Hathaway how he stands Lewis, he replies in a flash, "Suffering and endurance are the bedrock of a happy marriage!"

In 'The Dead of Winter,' still reeling from a recent, grueling case-ending with the discovery of a murdered young girl, Hathaway finds himself investigating the murder of Dr. Stephen Black at Crevecoeur Hall; a sprawling Oxford estate on which Hathaway spent much of his childhood. Along the way, Lewis 'adopts' a stray cat, has a barney with Hathaway, and informs his boss re: Hathaway, that "He's an awkward sod at the best of times, but he's my awkward sod!"

In 'Dark Matter,' Andrew Crompton, Master of Gresham College and amateur astronomer, is found dead at the foot of the University Observatory stairs only days before he expected to experience "an excess of joy," leaving Lewis and Hathaway to unravel a puzzle fraught with campus intrigue spanning decades.

It takes a while to get to the next killing, but it's one to make ou think for sure! For, days later, Dr. Ella Ransome, Crompton's wife's best friend, is also murdered. Are the two crimes connected? Of course they are, don't be silly, but as much as the killer is evident from the near-off, the ending wraps up very neatly.

In 'Your Sudden Death Question,' Lewis and Hathaway find themselves cancelling their August Bank Holiday plans when a private trivia weekend at Chaucer College kicks off with the murder of its standout competitor, Ethan Croft. The duo quickly learns that Croft was a womanizer with a number of secrets, a brilliant Russian linguist turned primary school teacher whose professional career suffered some shadowy disgrace behind Oxford's closed doors years ago.

Featuring a great character central role from Alan Davies (Jonathan Creek), he runs this episode from start to finish; never straying too far from his other known character. Also, along for the episodic ride is the fact that Hathaway gets his prize guitar stolen - and so the chase is on to get that back too!

In the final episode, 'Falling Darkness,' on Halloween, called to a scene as she's leaving for the evening, Dr. Hobson finds the friend she was on her way to meet dead, with a stake through her heart and garlic in her throat! I knoooooow! Anyway, though the pathologist is officially removed from the case, Lewis and Hathaway are happy to have a trusted face in their investigation.

But when a student turns up murdered the next day-in the house Hobson shared with her university friends years ago-the two are put in the uncomfortable position of conducting a more intrusive investigation into her past to determine what, if any, role she plays in the current case.

Now, this tale, more about love's great losses, also features a great line, one that I myself must take heed to also! When asked if she would ever return to an 'old flame,' freshly on the scene after many, many years, Dr. Hobson replies, "No, don't you ever read the instructions. You never return to a lit firework!"

Season 4 DVD Verdict: In the first episode of Series 4, which is actually Series 5 in the UK (!), 'Old, Unhappy, Far Off Things' (a quote from Wordsworth), a reunion at an all-female college ends in a murder. Professor Diana Ellerby is leaving Oxford's last surviving all-women's college and during a reunion with old students, 32 year-old Poppy Toynton is murdered. Lewis and Hathaway's (who is trying to quit smoking, unsuccessfully) investigation seems to then be connected to that of a 10 year-old girl. Currently in a coma, she was attacked during a party at the same college and is the sister of one of the other old students currently being investigated.

That case has haunted Lewis for years and, during the investigation, he reaches out to his former DS, Ali McLennan for assistance. But, as the current murder investigation continues secrets, blackmail and more bodies are uncovered - including, sadly, hers! With another possible romantic interlude gone in the wind, Lewis and Hathaway strive to put the jigsaw pieces together.

In 'Wild justice,' a black, female bishop visiting St Gerard's College is found dead after drinking poisoned wine. In what turns out to be a nicely weaved Jacobean revenge tragedy of a tale, Lewis and Hathaway suspect that she has been killed because of her progressive views. But when another two killings occur, both mirroring macabre murders from those Jacobean books, it appears the murderer is targeting candidates for the post of vice-regent of the college.

This episode of one of the best here in this set, and also includes the return to TV of Christopher Timothy ('All Creatures Great & Small') as a retired policeman with a secret. And so after learning that one of the suspects harbors a dark secret, Lewis and Hathaway realise their first-determined motive is wrong and that the murderer is avenging perceived slights from over twenty years before. A great twist ending comes out of nowhere here!

In 'The Mind Has Mountains,' a beautiful young girl/student dies during a residential clinical trial for a new anti-depressant. Lewis and Hathaway launch an investigation into the college's professor of psychiatry, who was leading the trial along with his young wife, but the pair eventually seem to be clean of all misdoings. That said, they do seem to be hiding something. As suspects are brought in, and more die along the way, one of those being held at the police station goads Lewis; to which he retorts to his Chief Superintendent Jean Innocent (Rebecca Front), "He deserves a night in the cells after what he said about your nice station, M'am"! This episode also comes with a nice twist ending of a whodunnit.

In the final episode, 'The Gift of Promise,' Lewis and Hathaway investigate the beating to death of a businesswoman who had apparently been blackmailing the father of her protégé. But it all seems to have more to do with the memoirs of a former head of MI5 that have just been released. With the always-beautiful, sexy Cherie Lunghi as Grace Orde, the former MI5 agent in the center of everything, bodies fall all around her due to something she printed in her book. In truth, it should have been called 'A Case of Who Killed Mary Keane' this quite easily, for my money, the BEST episode in the new set.

With the music for the series composed by Barrington Pheloung, who created the music for the original Morse series, 'Masterpiece Mystery: Inspector Lewis 4' is yet another 6 hours of your life (if watched back-to-back, like me) that you will never think wasted, trust me! [RT] These are all Full-Screen Presentations (1.66:1), but, and again sadly, come with no Special Features.