If the village of Midsomer is the planet’s official murder capital (it overtook Johannesburg some years ago..) the Oxford University campus can’t be far behind it in the body-count stakes. Lewis returns for his fifth series tonight and to be honest, with the amount of collegiate murders that this fine institution seems to see, we can’t imagine he’ll be able to retire any time soon.
The central characters in this series opener are Diana Ellerby, an Oxford professor who has just accepted a job at Princeton and her favourite former students Freya Carlisle, Lakshmi Eyre, Ruth Brooks and Poppy Tointon. These are all terribly clever people, and we know that because they say things like: âcongratulations, or whatever it is that one is supposed to say on such occasions.â? You know, the sort of searing social satire that would make Mark Twain jealous.
Lewis, as ever, plays the lumbering northern chap who gets put down by all the smartarse Oxford types â although not without getting in a few jabs of his own, with âwe had a couple of missionaries come up to Newcastle once, they went in the pot I thinkâ being especially good â before eventually getting the better of them. Itâs amusing, because the dynamic between Lewis and Hathaway is the reverse of the relationship between Lewis and Morse; Lewis now finds himself the seasoned detective to Hathawayâs smart young upstart, whereas he used to be the somewhat naive junior officer in contrast to Morseâs brilliance and experience. But, just as before, the two policemen turn out to be much more effective as a team and have to work together to solve the case.
In fact Lewis, with all the working-class triumphing over the stuffy and oppressive Oxford establishment gives off a feel of meritocratic class-transcending defiance so powerful that itâs practically Dickens. Or maybe not.
This is an action-packed episode, with a selection of murders and a girl in a coma and more masquerade ball action than Romeo and Juliet â along with the customary reference to Lewisâs dead wife, with colleagues worrying about how itâs going to affect him during this case. Itâs an hour-and-a-half long, but so much is fitted in that by the end youâll be struggling to catch your breath, or possibly just wondering if people really kill each other and then spend so much time trying to cover it up.