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on 24 March 2017
Morse is taken ill and whilst in hospital he reads of a Murder that took place 130 years ago.
The story & characters are very credible and shows that there's still life in the detective.
Thoroughly recommended.
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on 27 April 2017
Great book
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on 19 February 2008
This is a well written, cleverly plotted book, which contains a story within a story. Morse, recovering from illness in hospital, is given a pamphlet describing the murder of a woman which took place on the Oxford canal in the nineteenth century. That pamphlet is set out in full, and is interesting in its own right; on finishing it, Morse is convinced that the accepted conclusion was incorrect, and that the wrong men were hanged for the crime. He decides to solve it himself.

Dexter keeps the two stories going superbly in a novel which fully deserved its Gold Dagger.
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on 4 May 2005
This is the best of Dexter and explains why Morse is so fascinating.Using the 1839 Murder of Chritine Collins he adapts the case to Oxford and places it in 1860 and then proceeds to 'solve' the case whilst convalescing .Excellent of its genre.Really good read to take on holiday.
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on 8 August 2000
The Wench is Dead is a great summertime read for those English history buffs. I learned about the book recently in a reader's letter to the editor of Smithsonian Mag. Smithsonian published a lively and informative article about the locks and canals of England, particularly the Oxford Canal, which figures significantly in The Wench is Dead. The letter writer suggested the book for further interesting reading. The clues to the mystery are tantalizing as are the foreshadowing of events and character development. I especially enjoyed the teaser clues that may or may not lead to anything, but that pique the reader's interest.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 June 2016
The Wench is Dead, published in 1989, is the eighth of Colin Dexter's series featuring Chief Inspector Morse. It highlights up on a topic, the detective’s poor health, that plays an increasingly important part in the latter books of the series.

For most of the story Morse is to be found in hospital with a perforated ulcer and an enlarged liver, and it is there that he comes across a short history of a 19th-century killing, ‘Murder on the Oxford Canal’. Dexter’s story is based on a real case but here the victim is Joanne Franks, found dead in the Oxford Canal in June 1859. At first Morse reads the story simply to pass the time but soon finds himself doubting the jury’s verdict which led to two bargemen being hanged and one transported.

Helped by DS Lewis and a librarian from the Bodlean Library who was visiting the ward to see her father, Morse investigates this earlier case within the familiar structure of Dexter’s stories – short chapters introduced by a relevant quotation, references to crossword puzzles, obscure words, Morse’s love of music and poetry, and his concern for correct punctuation and spelling. There are also the swarm of women, mainly nurses, who seem to be attracted to the middle-aged, balding and somewhat overweight policeman. Morse is frequently short-tempered and it is Lewis who generally suffers. However, Dexter makes the detective’s guilt and regret very clear whilst the positive effect on Lewis of a gruff muttered apology is electric.

Lewis has a relatively small part in this short novel, the main focus being on Morse’s unraveling of the original investigation and also the author’s exploration of Morse’s psychology, a character who is increasingly concerned about his health [but seemingly unwilling to accept dietary advice], his age and his deep loneliness. His innate lack of confidence about relationships makes him constantly withdraw when he should grasp the opportunity.

The date of the book is evident in the absence of modern technology in the Bodleian and the length of time that Morse is able to remain recuperating in hospital. Today he would be discharged before he had time to finish the first chapter of his Victorian murder story.

This is more a historical novel than a detective story, and the lack of pace and plot may disappoint some readers, whilst others will find it hard to accept that tangible evidence can still be tracked down 130 years after the event. For others, Dexter’s skill in characterisation, dialogue and observation will be sufficient. Unusually the story is accompanied by b/w drawings of key items [including tombstones, markings on a wall in a soon-to-be demolished ruined home, a note describing the cause of death], but these are not really necessary. 9/10.
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on 24 June 2013
This is my favourite Morse book, probably because I am a history lover. It starts with Morse confined to bed in hospital and with only the account of a 19th century Oxford murder to read he starts to see flaws in the guilty verdict and decides to solve the murder himself. It takes him to Ireland and Derby , he gets to grips with fly-boat timetables and the sizes of women a hundred years ago, and finally sees the solution in a crossword clue. I would recommend this to anyone who is intrigued by the past and likes detecting for themselves. A different Morse book because of the setting and time the murder was committed .
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on 16 April 2015
I loved this book. Uniquely the author takes us into the past and we gain an insight into the lifestyle of the boatmen on the canals in the Victorian era. The flashbacks to the past really work and Morse is at his very best, albeit immobile in a hospital bed, at asking the pertinent question. You really begin to care that the truth is found, a truth which is beautifully unravelled. Dexter gives the reader clues throughout and up until the last page the reader is not left disappointed.
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on 17 April 2016
I’m probably a little predisposed towards Colin Dexter, because I’ve read all of the Sherlock Holmes books and most of Agatha Christie’s back catalogue, and so this is the natural next step. The Wench is Dead is a little different to most of the other books, in that Morse is an invalid throughout. He got hospitalised for being a middle-aged pisshead.

Anyway, the actual mystery involved here begins to develop when Morse begins to read one of his fellow patients’ write-up of a century-old murder case. It turns out, he has a few doubts about whether the official version of events, which led to the execution of several men, was ever the case at all.

And so, in between reading ‘blue‘ novels when he thinks no-one is looking and trying to recover from his illness, Morse’s mind begins to unravel the problem like one of the crossword puzzles that he’s fond of.

This is one of the quickest Morse novels to read, and it was also a gripping story, and so it’s a pretty good introduction to his work. That said, I’m yet to read most of the rest of the rest of Dexter’s work, and I’m willing to bet that there’ll be a better introduction to his stuff in there somewhere. Bear with me while I look into that, for you.
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on 9 September 2014
This novel is different from the usual Morse stories. With his life style finally catching up with him, Morse is in hospital. The wife of a late patient gives him a monograph about a murder in Oxford 130 years earlier. With the help of Lewis and a fellow patient's librarian daughter Morse tries to investigate the case afresh. This is a more modern take on Josephine Tey and it works very well. Highly recommended.
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