If last Sunday's broadcast of "Endeavour" on "Masterpiece Mystery" left you wanting more reasons to remember John Thaw's "Inspector Morse," how about some new episodes of the older "Morse" spinoff, "Inspector Lewis," airing over the next four Sundays on PBS?
Played by Kevin Whately, Lewis was Morse's partner on the old series, but literally and figuratively, he often walked in Morse's shadow. What gave him the gravitas and character depth to make him a worthy successor to Morse was the death of his beloved wife. The Robbie Lewis we've seen over four previous series is a much darker character than the somewhat bumbling bloke who used to work with Morse.
The quartet of new mysteries begins with "The Soul of Genius" Sunday night, in which Lewis and his partner, James Hathaway (Laurence Fox), investigate the discovery of a body buried in the woods near an exquisite garden famous because it was often frequented by Lewis Carroll. The body is that of a loner named Murray Hawes, who had been sent up to Oxford at 15 and in later life became an English professor obsessed with solving the riddle of Carroll's nonsense poem "The Hunting of the Snark." Hawes was so singularly determined to solve the riddle, he paid an enormous sum to obtain at auction an archival copy of the poem, annotated by the author.
Setting out to solve the murder brings Lewis and Hathaway to interview Hawes' arrogant brother, Rev. Conor Hawes (Alex Jennings); a pair of arty, narcissistic students who've named themselves after characters in "Pulp Fiction" (Oliver Johnstone and Daisy May as Vincent Vega and Mia Wallace); a self-styled Miss Marple named Michelle Marba (Celia Imrie); and the young botanist who discovered the body, Liz Nash (Nadine Lewington).
The murder is credibly complex, although the solution feels a bit over-thought. No matter, though, because the real pleasure of this episode is its focus on Hathaway. Enigmatic, sometimes aloof and often defensive about his inner thoughts, history and emotions, Fox's Hathaway is already much more interesting than Whately's Lewis was when he was Morse's deputy. We know some things about Hathaway - that he smokes, that he once studied for the priesthood at Oxford and that he was a star athlete. But other aspects of his past and his present are murky.
If and when Robbie Lewis decides to retire, Hathaway won't need as much of a character makeover to become the title character of a spinoff. We may still find ourselves wondering about some of the darker corners of his well-guarded inner life and past, but that curiosity will only further compel our interest.
The second of the new "Lewis" mysteries is even better plotted than "Soul of Genius." ''A Generation of Vipers" focuses on the death of a young feminist scholar named Miranda Thonrton (Julie Cox) who tapes a video for a matchmaking service, only to have the video show up on a local tattler website called the Barker.
As Lewis and Hathaway try to figure out if Miranda's death was a suicide or murder, they find themselves confronting a number of unsavory characters, including the arrogant mastermind (Daniel Lapaine) behind the Barker and an equally arrogant developer (Toby Stephens).
The solution to the crime in "Vipers" is brilliant, made even more enjoyable because we see several high-riders deservedly unhorsed.
Inspector Lewis: Series V, "Masterpiece Mystery" airs as follows: "A Soul of Genius," 9 p.m. Sunday;" Generation of Vipers," 9 p.m. July 15; "Fearful Symmetry," 9 p.m. July 22; and "The Indelible Stain," 9 p.m. July 29 on PBS. Check local listings.