on 24 July 2009
The story begins with a short Prologue describing a meeting of the "Foreign Examination Syndicate" during which the decision is made to hire the book's title character, Nicholas Quinn. "The Silent World" of the title derives from Mr. Quinn deafness.
Here, Colin Dexter capitalizes on his first-hand experience and understanding of a qualifications testing organization. He was, himself, an employee of the Oxford Local Examination Board. As early as the Prologue, his intimate knowledge of Board activities and member motivation is evident. The Prologue is a self-contained mini-story, and Dexter's knowledge gives this presentation such verisimilitude that it seems more a detailed description of actual events than a fictional presentation.
The book snared me from its opening questions, "Well? What do you think?" and kept my interest throughout. In between the Prologue and Epilogue, the book is divided into four main sections, each titled with a question: "Why?", When?, How?, and Who? Section chapters are frequently short, making it convenient to pause at a chapter breakpoint at almost anytime.
Mr. Dexter's writing is fascinating, insightful, and often humorous. His writing never intrudes, and each section is by itself a satisfying story.
The book finishes with a satisfactory conclusion to the mystery, followed by an Epilogue. Just as the Prologue brings you gently into the story, the Epilogue takes you gently out. It ties up loose ends, e.g., the impact of Morse's revelations on the people and organizations involved.
Although "clues" appear through the story, it seems to me, it would be almost impossible for a reader to solve the mystery on their own, i.e., before the conclusion is finally revealed. If you do, you are clearly quite gifted. Because of the complexity of the mystery and the low likelihood of a reader anticipating the solution, the story should keep the reader's interest until the end.
Dexter's subject matter knowledge, erudition, and his story telling finesse, combined with his delineation of Morse and Lewis and their interaction, made each chapter, as trite as it may sound, a joy to read. I really believe Dexter's writing skills could make a trip to the supermarket interesting reading.
In most mystery stories, its usually the solution's revelation that brings the greatest satisfaction. Here, each chapter is itself a treat, with the solution the treats' maraschino cherry.
In conclusion, this is an exceptionally well-written story, that starts strong and stays that way to the end -- really, five stars plus.
In true mystery style, Dexter’s third book in the series is divided into sections entitled ‘Why?’, ‘When?’, How?, and ‘Who?’. These follow a Prologue about a meeting of the Appointments Committee of the Foreign Examination Syndicate in Oxford which agrees, after some dispute, to offer a job to Nicholas Quinn, whose intense deafness explains the title. Needless to say, this deafness is highly relevant to the plot.
Dexter’s detailed knowledge of setting, marking and invigilating examination questions provides a basis for a story that involves lechery, frustrated romance, bribery, oil sheikhs and murder. Occasionally the scene leaves Oxford to offer a perspective on the overseas activities of the Syndicate, whose staff are male [Messrs Martin, Oglesby and Quinn, and the Secretary, Dr Bartlett] with the exception of the glamorous Monica Height, who is as two-dimensional as most of the author’s female characters. Given the stuffiness of the Syndicate, it is surprising that even one woman should have been let in, although there was a reason.
However, some of Morse’s remarks and thinking about Miss Height and other women are very much of their time. Whilst this aspect of Morse’s character was evident throughout the series, it tended to be somewhat played down in later books. Sympathy for Morse was created through references to his self-induced ill-health.
The author’s plotting is complex and few readers will probably have beaten Morse to the right solution despite the limited number of suspects and the author paying scrupulous attention to the rules of crime writing. Perhaps a little too much depends on cross-checking alibis, since this reader [like Lewis] became confused on several occasions. For once, the thirty two chapters are not preceded by relevant literary quotations. As ever, Morse comes up with a number of well-thought through, but incorrect explanations of the crimes before arriving at the final one but this is very much part of the author’s game. Lewis assists in ways that he is mostly ignorant of, and by putting in a great deal of waking, chauffeuring his boss, checking facts and conducting interviews.
There is not a great deal of action but the descriptions of the loves, jealousies and rivalries in academia, the contrasting elements of the Morse-Lewis relationship and the references to the UK’s financial difficulties leading to the 1976 IMF bail out make this an eminently readable story.
There is an ongoing storyline about characters establishing alibis by visiting the local Studio 2 cinema to inspect the glories of Miss Inga Nielsson’s superstructure in the never-to-be-forgotten ‘Nymphomaniac’. This is presented in a surprisingly heavy-handed manner. The fate of the Syndicate is described in the short Epilogue. Early Morse-Lewis but still enjoyable, 8/10.
on 12 March 2001
This is an early Morse book, but don't let that put you off. The plot is typical Dexter, fast, and full of top class dialogue. Perhaps he hints at the murderer too much at the start, but the ensuing plot means it is testing to work out the killer(s?)! Great read!
Written in 1977, this is the third of the thirteen-novel Inspector Morse series. Here Morse is not so well-developed as he becomes in later novels, when the reader of the series has more background to draw from, but he is still a fascinating character--a single man, a huge fan of crossword puzzles, a beer-lover, and a dedicated student of classical music, who is also crotchety, impatient with his less educated assistant (Sgt. Lewis), and unwilling to give up on a case until all the pieces fit perfectly.
Here Morse and Sgt. Lewis are called to Oxford to investigate the murder of Nicholas Quinn, a profoundly deaf man who worked on the university's Examinations Board, developing the tests to determine future entrants to the university. Security breaches have occurred and copies of the test may have been sold in the Middle East. No one knows whether Nicholas Quinn was involved, and if not, who was. Most importantly, who killed him, and why?
As Morse investigates the case, the private lives of the various dons and their secretary are revealed, and when Monica, the secretary, is attacked and injured, she arouses Morse's finer feelings (a "rescuing" trait of Morse which continues to develop in later novels with other "damsels in distress"). With none of the players exactly who they seem to be and questions arising as to when, exactly, Nicholas Quinn died, Morse pursues numerous dead ends and actually arrests several innocent people.
Written fully ten years before some of the best of the series, this novel is fun to read as a Morse curiosity, but it is still a well-developed mystery. Morse's character is obviously still evolving--he makes a lot of mistakes which need to be corrected-- and his relationship with Sgt. Lewis is still "in process." The famed red Jaguar has not yet appeared--Morse drives a Lancia here--and his diabetes and his love of scotch whisky are still unknown to the reader. Morse is a man of integrity, however, and he is committed to finding the killer--his character and his methods, however, have yet to be fully explored by the author. Mary Whipple