Silent World of Nicholas Quinn/Service of All the Dead Paperback – 2008
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Silent World of Nicholas Quinn/Service of All the Dead
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Nicholas Quinn, very deaf, is hired to become one of the staff of an Oxford group that makes up examinations for foreign students. Quinn has learned lip reading in order to survive in his profession, and it's the lip reading that ultimately dooms him. At first the hiring committee was reluctant to hire Quinn, but he was championed by a chemist named Roope. Quinn is poisoned, and another of the staff members is murdered.
As usual timing and alibis are crucial in a Morse mystery. This one revolves around the various times that suspects took trains and attended a certain movie house. Coincidence plays a great part in a Dexter plot. It's a wonder that Morse doesn't get in trouble with the public accusations of guilt and the later retractions he has to that make. His brilliant deductions are often the result of sheer luck rather than his keen intelligence.
As usual Morse is attracted to one of the female suspects, and he becomes very jealous of her when he finds that she is fooling around and even calls her a tart. Certain women get turned onto him, but nothing ever seems to come of it so Morse subsists on his Classical music, his pints of beer and an occasional scotch.
When Morse interrogates suspects, he sometimes lies to them in order to gain information. Morse is brilliant but can make unbelievable gaffs. It's fun to watch the verbal sparring between the pig-headed Chief Inspector Morse and the commonsensical Lewis.
There is a very complicated solution in this one which numbs Morse's listeners with its intricacies, and it'll be a numbing experience for the reader as well. As usual Morse keeps coming to the wrong conclusions until the very end. If killers really came up with schemes as elaborate and intricate as Dexter dreams up, our detectives would have be Mensa-types to capture them.
The book opens with the aftermath of a round of interviews at Oxford University. The position, recently vacated by George Bland, is with the Foreign Examinations Syndicate - Bland has since moved abroad to open a new examinations centre. As his replacement, the Syndicate's secretary - Tom Bartlett - is quite keen on a chap by the name of Fielding...and, initially, seems to be getting the candidate of his choice. However, thanks to the intervention of a colleague called Roope - a chemist, who'd formerly spent 2 years with the Anglo Arabian Oil Company - the panel appoints Nicholas Quinn instead. Bartlett isn't at all happy - he and Roope clearly don't get on with each other, and Bartlett is convinced that Quinn's deafness with cause significant problems. Unfortunately for Quinn, he'd have been better off not winning the position : by the fifth chapter, he's dead.
The first few chapters race through the final months of Quinn's life, treating us to a quick tour of the Syndicate before Morse makes his appearance. The syndicate based in a very grand (and historic) building...though it is now a little cramped for the staffing levels. While his hearing had admittedly been poor, only the telephones had caused him any real problem (Luckily, he had been expert lip-reader). The most significant event had been the wooing of delegation from the Sheikdom of Al-jamara. The Sheikdom, thanks to its bountiful oil reserves, has plenty of money....something the Syndicate badly needs.
Morse is still some way off a fully rounded character in this book. He seems to have had a little in common with Quinn - both were single men who enjoyed leering over the ladies. (Morse's other main hobbies are apparently drinking beer, listening to classical music and taking on the crossword in the Times). He's also a rather grumpy character, and it's his dim-but-occasionally-lucky sidekick, Lewis, who bears the brunt of Morse's bad moods. Overall, I'd say this book is a great improvement on its two predecessors - though, at times, it's still a little too refined and unconvincing for me to take it entirely seriously.
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 methods to be fully developed by the author in future novels. n Mary Whipple