My wife and I don’t always agree on what to watch on TV when we cuddle up for a quiet evening. But we enjoy British murder mysteries. Since Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, the British seems to own this literary genre. The basic plot by Doyle is basic: in a closed setting (a town, house, train or ship) a corpse is discovered. A brilliant, seasoned or hardened, detective, alone or with a partner, investigates (or inquires, as the British puts it) the murder. A small band of suspects, one by one is gradually exposed. Through rational deduction and visceral intuition, the means, motives and opportunities of the suspects are explored. At last, the truth is exposed, the murder solved and justice served. For more than a century, this formulaic plot remains rudimentarily simple in each murder mystery complicated and embellished with subplots, side-stories and divergences.
For decades, a long list of British murder mystery series have entertained us. Here is a partial listing: Prime Suspect, Foyle’s War, Agatha Christie’s Poirot, Inspector Gently, Sherlock, Endeavour. In their inimitable ways, each murder exhumes human depravity. Whether the perpetrator is a sociopath or a house wife, murder is committed for the most selfish/self-serving way. Most of us may think that we do not have the fortitude to kill another human being in cold blood, but a reasonable person would admit that all of us are capable of an egregious crime when inclination and circumstance collide. St Paul speaks truth about total depravity in all us in Romans 7.
Out of this trove, my favorite is “Inspector Lewis” (2007 – 2014). Inspired by Colin Dexter’s character Inspector Morse and as a sequel to the “Inspector Morse” series, “Inspector Lewis” is of the Sunday PBS Masterpiece Mystery. In its seventh season, each episode’s layers of cultural, literary, theological and philosophical references centered in Oxford, England are most gratifying. But the main reason why I, a Christian, enjoy this series more than others is its apparent subtext perplexity: Is this universe governed by morals and oversees by a good God?
Detective Inspector Robbie Lewis (Kevin Whately) is life weary and a working class widower. He is not polite to fray invidious disdain for Oxford’s academic elites. Their mendacious morality is distasteful to his working class morale. His partner, Detective Sergeant James Hathaway (Laurence Fox), is learned in ancient Greek philosophies and the Romantics. A seminary graduate, Hathaway is moodily introspective. Unlike Lewis, he finds Oxford’s academia, in all its pretenses, fascinating. He chain smokes and is attracted to attractively smart women. After the death of his wife in car accident, Lewis wrestles with and gives up on God. He admonishes the grieving son of a victim, “People die every day for no good reasons. It’s never fair.” Another time, he wails, “Don’t give me that God moves in mysterious ways and all that mumbo-jumbo.” In contrast, Hathaway embraces the God of goodness and wants to believe humanity’s potential for goodness. When God or people disappoint his faith, he broods in disquiet quietude. Often we find him interrupting an inquiry to consol a troubled soul in a quiet corner. While Lewis is the antagonist to evil’s proponents, Hathaway does his priestly work with victims of that evil.
For an enjoyable and intellectually stimulating evening, there is nothing better than an episode of “Inspector Lewis.” It informs as well as entertains our souls. You don’t have to look hard to find the series on reruns, streaming or DVD.