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4.4 out of 5 stars26
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 28 January 2013
I had my Morse "period" some years ago but this gem slipped my net. I had quite forgotten just how scholarly Colin Dexter is. There is a strong sense of place in this novel which for me is important, the more so when I know most of them well. Beginning in Lyme Regis, sometime home of Jane Austen and John Fowles, moving to Nether Stowey,Somerset, where Coleridge and Wordsworth spent a short sojourn, back to Oxford and for Lewis on to Uppsala. The plot is strong and complex as are most of the characters. Beneath the Oxford spires of academia lurks another type of world which is where the main characters live and work. Music is another very attractive ingredient which makes for a fulsome storyline. The pre-text at the start of each chapter adds flair and food for thought. As ever Morse is the mouth - piece for Dexter's own social conscience. If willing the reader might be almost in conversation with Morse/Dexter. Brilliant, highly recommended as are most if not all of the Morse series.
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on 9 October 2015
They called her the Swedish Maiden – the beautiful young tourist who disappeared on a hot summer’s day somewhere in North Oxford. Twelve months later the case remained unsolved – pending further developments and Inspector Morse cannot let it go.

My all time top favourite series in the mystery genre, and this book is the best I have read in the series. Few modern writers can rival Colin Dexter's exquisite character building, whether within the genre or from outside. Inspector Morse is a delightful, masterpiece creation. Morse is at once brilliant; peevish yet often sly and diplomatic, kindly towards those who work under him; with classic tastes in cars, music, and lifestyle; and, as far as women are concerned, lusting after every woman in sight in a manner that is pathetic yet endearing, a little creepy yet gentlemanly mannered that kind of makes you laugh at him and yet feel sorry for him at the same time. He is a very real character with very real strengths and weaknesses.

Also in this particular book Dexter reaches his peak in literary writing. Consider the brilliant 5 stanza poem on the "Swedish Maiden" with which Dexter introduces the murder to us. This is beautiful, brilliant poetry. The scene in Lyme Regis where Morse watches the tide coming in and the sea gulls momentarily flying suspended in the air then "peeling off" like fighter air-planes ... that is exquisite writing that evokes the scene's beautiful setting very viscerally.

While the writing and the characterization delights one aesthetically, at the same time the brilliant mystery and the plot dazzles one's mind with an equally exquisitely layered puzzle one impulsively feels compelled to follow. One cannot ignore the tantalisingly sexy direction the plot veers in which teases you with its somewhat restrained sauciness. i.e. It is not explicit sex, but it is all the more tantalising and titillating for its restrained quality. In hindsight it seems to me that Morse had been investigating the case quietly on the side all along and even the vacation in Lyme Regis was a pre-planned move following a thread of investigation; not the coincidence it appears to be at first sight. Ah, just brilliant!

One should also mention the supporting cast - particularly Chief Superintendent Strange and Lewis - and Morse's interplay with them which creates moments of delightful comedy, humor, and the deep development of all 3 characters. Do all men contemplate most women they meet as sexual objects, even the straight-laced Lewis as in the scene with the victim's mother? The evidence is that they do (something I have explored in my own stories). I say Freud hit the nail on the head. It is decidedly a Freudian world out there.

There are some minor faults: Dexter makes sudden dips into the POVs of every minor character he meets. He sometimes breaks into the omniscient POV from the close third person limited POV and gives us warnings about what is yet to happen in the future. However, these minor points do not in any way lessen the sheer aesthetic beauty in the writing, exquisite characterisation, and the brilliantly woven and gripping intellectual puzzle that makes up this modern classic.
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on 3 May 2015
Have you ever been reading a book and thought “I wonder what this would be like if the ostensible main character was reduced to secondary status by the inclusion of an overwhelming number of scenes involving unimportant characters and events”? Or perhaps you’ve caught yourself, in stray moments, cogitating “Well, this is all fine but what we really need is a diary entry from an unattributed source, repeated as a device three or so times and ultimately dropped before 10% of the way into the book which will end up being written by a less than tertiary character in the narrative and referring to events that have absolutely no bearing on the plot”? If so, Colin Dexter has just the book for you: it’s called The Way Through the Woods and is one of the later entries in what I’m increasingly starting to realise is the massively over-hyped Inspector Morse series.

Oh, I know, you loved John Thaw. Everyone loved John Thaw, he was awesome. That doesn’t change the fact that Dexter’s source novels are the most egregious example of diminishing returns you could ever encounter. Here, everyone seems to have some mysterious reason for acting suspiciously – it’s like bad Hammer horror, with everyone peering ominously out of windows and wracking themselves over a guilt the source of which is never actually mentioned – and practically every character gets several chapters to just mull around and be sort of mysterious, or (if female, regardless of age or purpose in the plot) to moon over the raging sex panther that Dexter evidently imagines Morse himself to be.

It’s deeply awful, and a long way from the subtleties of, say, The Wench is Dead (which at least deserved the Gold Dagger it this ever won one is beyond me, surely 1992 wasn’t that fallow a year). The first quarter of the book provides practically nothing that couldn’t have been communicated in three pages with Morse coming back from holiday, and then the plot sort of meanders pointlessly without any real structure as Morse and Lewis blunder into a series of lucky coincidences. A series of women dwell on their desire to jump Morse’s bones, the occasional development is wrung out of the supporting cast after much Looming and Acting Strangely and then it sort of finishes. And don’t even get me started on the source of the poem, surely the least surprising reveal since...oh, I don’t even care, pick your own example.

I kind of enjoyed the earlier books – Dexter is an astoundingly undisciplined writer, but it was charming in its own way – but the regression he undergoes as the series progresses is terrible. I finished The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn hugely confused as to what had actually happened but reasonably sure I had enjoyed it, but The Daughters of Cain was practically unbearable, burying a single good idea in 400 pages of crud. TWTtW doesn’t even have that – Morse acts like an arse towards the original investigating officers, showing off how perceptive and brilliant he is but failing to forward their investigation one bit seemingly just so he can spring a surprise on the reader about a third of the way in. What a pillock, frankly.

However, millions will disagree with me. This is just my lone shout in the hurricane of praise, because I feel it’s needed!
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on 20 January 2013
This is Colin Dexter at his best. Morse is on leave in Lyme Regis when verses appear in the Times about the disappearance of the "Swedish Maiden". This results in a whole host of letters from Times readers which Morse reads avidly. Morse is persuaded to return to Oxford to take charge of the year old case and what follows is a brilliant and insightful investigation and solving of the case.

Read this - you won't find any other crime fiction novel which will beat this one!
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on 3 January 2013
I chose a four star rating because I could not put the book down! The story unfolded gradually , but the pace of the unfolding was dramatic and compelling. Dexter's ' red herrings ' are so plausible. It's like reading three or four stories in one! I did noy enjoy the TV series at all. Quite frankly, I couldn't understand them!! But the books are totally different and I shall read each with eager anticipation. I have bought all fourteen Morse Mysteries--can't wait!
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on 5 May 2013
This is a particulary good Morse novel. As usual, Dexter sprinkles the text with obscure words! The dictionary is very useful here!
The novel is quite similar to the TV episode of the same name, unlike some of the novels.
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on 16 July 2013
An unusual story. Had no idea the twists of plot were coming. Fast-paced and fascinating. Morse's character seemed to be work in progress. An old friend in development.
A joy to read.
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on 29 December 2014
This Morse book was converted into a TV episode with little changed, so reading it now seems very familiar. Well written but few surprises.
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on 29 December 2013
really enjoyed reading this book. it is the first Morse I've read and has made me hungry for more. trouble is, I now want the set.
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on 1 May 2013
An excellent Morse novel, one of the best in the Morse saga in which we learn more about the chief inspector and Lewis.
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