Monday, October 6, 2014

Inspector Lewis: “Entry Wounds” (BBC/PBS, 2014)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2014 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I turned on KPBS for an episode of the Inspector Lewis series from the BBC (I’m old enough to remember when PBS recycled so many British shows it was jokingly referred to as “BBC West”), which was created by the same person who did the Inspector Morse stories and appears to take place in the same fictional universe — the police force of Oxford. The central intrigue is the murder of Alistair Stoke (Jonny Phillips), a neurosurgeon by day and also the owner of an estate he’s set up as a hunting ground, which has attracted the ire of animal-rights activists. Dr. Stoke has also attracted the ire of the Nooran family, whose son was put into a persistent vegetative state when Stoke botched an operation on him while under the influence of alcohol. Stoke is killed and the bullet that killed him is ballistically matched to a gun belonging to Tom Marston (Aden Gillett), his partner in the hunting estate, but later Marston is killed with a ballistically matching bullet while the gun itself is safely locked in the police evidence room. Our hero, Inspector Lewis (Kevin Whately) — a retired cop who comes out of retirement to help his former partner, James Hathaway (the striking-looking Laurence Fox), solve the crime — figures out that a sufficiently determined murderer could fake the ballistics evidence by firing bullets into water, recovering them and then reusing them as long as the gun in which they were fired the second time was smooth-bored, like a shotgun. (I’m not sure I believe that but Helen Jenkins’ script insists on it.) Stoke’s assistant is one of the red-herring suspects — he had complained about Stoke doing surgery while drunk to the medical board, but Marston had alibied him and he’d got away with it — and the father of the boy Stoke put into a vegetative state is also a suspect until he kills himself midway through, but the actual killer turns out to be Stoke’s nurse, who was determined to get rid of him before he knocked off or severely damaged any more patients. The episode title was “Entry Wounds,” but though it’s listed as “part 1” on the page for the series it seemed self-contained enough to me! What struck me about this show was how dull it was — though it takes place in modern times and there are enough of the computer-related accoutrements of modern life (cell phones, the Web, tablets and laptops all figure in the action), it’s plotted like an old-fashioned British mystery, with the cops politely investigating an equally polite and relatively nonviolent crime (even the bullet moved more slowly than usual, a consequence of its having been already fired and reused), with characters as flat as cardboard and a resolution that’s less a whodunit than a whocareswhodunit. When Raymond Chandler praised Dashiell Hammett for having “given murder back to the people who commit it for a reason, not merely to provide a corpse,” this was exactly the sort of story Chandler was critiquing, a typical British mystery in which even the appearance of several dead bodies isn’t enough to break the decorum!