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Will East Meet West?

Here in Oregon, British mysteries have long been a favorite of Americans who watch public television. It is difficult to say what we like best – the acting, the locations, the cinematography, or the verbal sparring. (The actual plots can often seem an excuse for these more definite pleasures.)

In their sundry ways, Morse, Adam Dalgliesh, DCI Jane Tennison, and Miss Marple have charmed us. None of the actors portraying them is handsome or beautiful, but they are all irresistibly attractive, a tribute in its way to the power of character. Two of the detectives drive memorable cars: Morse a red Jaguar, of course, and Inspector Lynley, the most recent arrival on these shores, a Bristol 410. Curious the number of lovely, iconic cars designed by Brits, as our small tribute to sports cars suggests in SPORTS & STYLE >

I haven't had much time on Sunday evenings to watch Inspector Lynley and DC Havers, though long enough to wish Havers would lose her awful coat and to be amused that the BBC, which produces the series, smuggles its anti-American bias into even its dramatic presentations.

We're a year behind here, and we are just finishing Series 4. The last episode in the Series, The Word of God, features a very valuable golden Koran, and, for me, one telling line.

There may have been other lines, I hasten to add, but I came into the middle of the episode and was quickly called away. Before I did, a Muslim woman spoke about her dead husband's love of London. He apparently thought of London as the place where East meets West – in the best sort of ways.

The thought seems touchingly idealistic today. We don't know how Eastern, and specifically Islamic, culture, is going to meet British culture. What we do know, I think, is that if there is to be a meeting, someone – or in the case of a culture – something has to be there. If one culture is missing, there can hardly be a dialogue.

In the mysteries, British culture is attractive, intelligent, fair, fighting for the good, curious, rational, and evidence-based. It meets other cultures with the panache of Morse driving his red Jaguar. It depends, as Morse did, on spiritual realities (usually found by Morse in opera). These spiritual realities can be found in many areas of British life, though they are not usually identified as such.