Endeavour, shown this evening on ITV, is a relative rarity in detective fiction, a prequel. You can guess from the title that it concerned the early days of Colin Dexter's much-loved Inspector Morse. We have, of course, seen attempts at the early life of Sherlock Holmes, although as yet we've been spared stories about the youthful exploits of Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple (though, who knows, perhsaps some TV mogul somewhere is even now thinking about suitably inappropriate casting ideas.)
The first question I asked myself before watching was: do we really need a prequel? It is clearly a money-spinner, but does it really add anything to our appreciation of the character? After all, there are plenty of excellent books (and also some written by me!) that it would be good to see on TV, yet which are unlikely to make the small screen any time soon. You can argue that it's a pity that TV companies prefer the safe, the tried and tested, to taking a risk with something unfamiliar. And, joking and personal bias apart, I do think this is a pity. But it's also commercial reality. TV is a business, and the Morse franchise has been hugely successful. Artistically succesful, too. What's more, although I was initially resistant to the concept of Lewis, I've found it so entertaining that I've become a real fan. So I was more than ready to set aside instinctive prejudice against the concept.
My conclusion is that the experiment was definitely worthwhile. Russell Lewis, the scriptwriter, did an extremely good job (again I find myself doing a bit of teeth-gnashing, since although I've never met him, Russell Lewis was once mooted as a prospective scriptwriter for a TV version of the Harry Devlin stories, which more than once were the subject of an options deal that never turned into something that was filmed.) In particular, I liked the nods to the original stories - not just the cameo appearance of Colin Dexter, or the casting of Abigail Thaw, daugher of the irreplaceable John, but various neat bits of scripting. Oxford, of course, remains one of the most photogenic of settings for a classic mystery.
Shaun Evans did a decent job of the very difficult task of playing young Morse. I also very much liked Roger Allam's performance as his boss, Inspector Thursday. As for the whodunit plot, it followed a formula familiar to Morse fans. I shall say no more! But it was entertaining from start to finish.
The big question now is whether Endeavour will prove to be a pilot for a series. I have mixed feelings, for the reasons I've mentioned. But I did enjoy this show, and I certainly wouldn't bet against our seeing more stories about Morse's early career before too long.
One final thought. I remember clearly watching the very first episode of Inspector Morse. Apparently it was back in 1987, four years before I had a mystery of my own published. Talk about time flying...