on 20 September 2009
This is another fine Inspector Morse mystery. At the centre of the plot sits Sir Clicksby Breen who will shortly retire as Master of Lonsdale College. His potential replacement are two in-house candidates, who appear to be equally well suited to succeed Sir Clicksby, but whose wives both have some rather black spots in their past, which should best stay there.
Morse enters the scene with the murder of Rachel James. What makes it somewhat more difficult this time is that there is next to no reason why the young lady should have been killed and it is only with the second murder of Geoffrey Owens that the whole mystery becomes a good deal clearer. The conclusion I shall let you read yourself but it struck me somewhat unfortunate for the victims, hence the title of my review.
What I love about Colin Dexter is how well he develops his characters. What makes this novel perhaps a touch more difficult than other Morse novels is that all the characters are involved and/or connected with each other, which gives the reader a hell of a job to follow all the possible combinations on what may have happened. From my point of view, this makes the story more exciting.
Morse is still his good old self. Rude and always out of pocket when it comes to paying for the pint. You will notice that his health has again deteriorated. He is now drinking not because it helps him to think but to counter-balance the insulin injections he needs. But these novels would not be half the fun without him.
The other thing I like about this book and every single book since `The Dead Of Jericho' are the proverbs Colin Dexter opens his chapters with. Excellent show.
on 11 January 1999
The latest novel in the series presents few surprises for the seasoned Morse fan. However, any newcomers to the genre should start elsewhere as this novel at times assumes too much knowledge, filled as it is with in-jokes and references to character traits that have been carefully developed over many years.
Again we find ourselves in the familiar surroundings of north Oxford where suburban death is interwoven with college life - Lonsdale College, where the election of a new master is to take place. The two leading candidates are swiftly smothered with motive and opportunity, as are their spouses and as one would expect.
Lewis plays his customary role as the straight man, Strange yearns for retirement and Morse seems to be going through the motions. In fact, as the story charts its usual elliptical course to the not altogether surprising conclusion, it increasingly appears that Colin Dexter is turning the handle in a rather too predictable manner. The sexual innuendo seems inappropriate and heavy-handed, the text appears more liberally littered with words more accustomed to the Observer crossword and the attention paid to brand names (often real ales) I see as a sign of laziness in an author. In addition, the not so secret twist in the tail and the demise of Morse's health in the story's progression hints that this series may be running its course.
Nonetheless, it still provides the loyal reader with an enjoyable few hours, re-visiting familiar Oxford sights and hostelries, while the characterisation is certainly more multi-textured than many best-selling novelists tend to produce.
This penultimate book in the Inspector Morse series will be remembered as the one in which the reader learns the detective’s first name on the final page. But it also shows Morse’s increasing descent into ill health, the complications of diabetes – greatly aggravated by his determination to ignore advice on diet and alcohol consumption. The pain that this causes the ever faithful Lewis is palpable even as they investigation the murders of two next door neighbours.
Dexter’s hallmarks are everywhere, a complex plot, apt quotes introducing each of the many short chapters, crossword clues, Morse’s love of Wagner and Houseman [and ambivalence to Bach], compelling hypotheses constructed and then disregarded when contradictory evidence appears, Lewis running around at Morse’s beck and call, and insights into the politics of Lonsdale College where the election of a new Master is underway. The weakness of the author’s presentation of women characters continues but this is a minor point given the enjoyment that this book gave me.
The neighbours are Rachel James, a physiotherapist, and Geoffrey Owens, a journalist; both had been shot and each wore their hair in a long pony tail. Might there be a connection? Of course, Morse and Lewis find many that lead to blackmail, bed-hopping and, for Morse, a trip to Soho during which he enters ‘a seedy-looking thoroughfare, where a succession of establishments promised XXXX videos and magazines [imported], shows [live], strip-tease [continuous] – and a selection of freshly made sandwiches [various].’ Because this is ‘only’ a detective novel it is easy to overlook just how good the writing is, and at so many levels.
The book, written in 1996, is dated in many aspects – not least in the speed of letter delivery, the time required for scientific tests and the absence of electronic record keeping that hinders the investigation. No doubt Oxford colleges are no different today but this casts light on murky events behind the scenes. Morse still thinks a great deal about women who, in turn, think about him. However, he realises that, due to his emotional withdrawal, he has lost the opportunity to settle down to a satisfying domestic life like Lewis’ [with its constant supply of eggs and chips]. He is unable or unwilling to reflect on this and increasingly uses alcohol as a support. However, this is now an open secret amongst his colleagues.
It goes without saying that to get the best out of Dexter’s characters, one should read the books in sequence. However, it would be best to leave a few weeks between each because there are repetitious elements that otherwise might frustrate.