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.
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!
This is a fascinating story that contains all of the author’s hallmarks – chapters introduced by epigraphs from a wide range of literary sources, the curmudgeonly Morse revealing his weaknesses, Lewis remaining a faithful Watson despite the many provocations of his boss [the former drinking bitter and the latter soft drinks at innumerable pubs and hotels], bleeding chunks of Wagner, a caste of interesting characters, words that only the compiler of the OED will know [scoptolognia, kleptolagnia, presbyopically, Boustrophedon, funambulist and many more], crossword clues, letters to the Times and Morse coming up with solutions to a convoluted plot before each is discarded when additional evidence is found. There is also the death of one of the memorable characters in the series thus far.
On holiday in Lyme Regis [despite his thinking that a ‘A perpetual holiday is a good working definition of Hell’ he is enjoying visiting locations associated with Thomas Hardy and Coleridge], Morse reads an article in the Times about Karin Eriksson, a Swedish hitch-hiker, who disappeared a year ago. It contains a poem sent to the editor that, it is assumed, provides clues to the young woman’s fate. Over the course of the next few weeks it spurs readers to write letters suggesting places where her body may be found.
Initially Morse’s interest in the correspondence is shared with his attraction to a woman he meets in the hotel but the former takes over when Morse is given responsibility for reinvestigating the ‘Swedish Maiden’ case. Soon a long buried body is uncovered. However, this is not the last he sees of this woman.
Opinions within the Thames Valley police are divided about whether the body may be buried on the vast Blenheim Estate or in Wytham Woods, Morse’s thinking. This book was published in 1992, and with hindsight, Dexter’s rather two-dimensional characterisation of women is even more apparent. Here the plot revolves around pornography and the men in the book, excepting Lewis, seem to regard any woman as fair game whilst the women, whatever their profession, seem disappointed when men do not pursue them. This extends to one character who initially takes umbrage ‘I am not your "dear". You must forgive me for being so blunt: but I'm no one's "luv" or "dear" or "darling" or "sweetheart". I've got a name.’
Gradually the author builds up a series of convoluted sub-plots that involve Oxford academics, birdwatchers and rangers, models, leering men and the Mikado. Before the book ends much guilt is expressed [not all believable], tears shed, a suicide, a murder and the identity of the writer to the newspaper is revealed. There are also the usual unresolved relationships that help to weld individual books into a very impressive series.
on 26 January 2016
This is the first Colin Dexter book that I’ve ever read, and I wasn’t sure what to expect – I was hoping to find that he writes like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie, and I wasn’t disappointed. Dexter can write a cracking crime novel, and Morse is a fascinating character – just like Poirot, Holmes and the other great detectives in the world of literature.
The story follows Morse’s investigation into the disappearance and presumed death of a young girl – he’s a reluctant hero, as he’s on holiday at the time, but he’s still a hero. If that reminds you of Sherlock Holmes, then I’m not surprised – Dexter clearly takes a lot of inspiration from the great crime writers of old, and Conan Doyle was the best of the best.
But this book was so much more than just an imitation of Sherlock Holmes from another author who wanted to make a name for themselves. It’s a joy to read, incredibly well-written, and the story feels truly unique, packed full of twists and turns to keep you interested until the end.
Perhaps that’s why it won the Gold Dagger Award for the Best Crime Novel of the Year – if only I’d known that when I appeared on Pointless, the BBC quiz show. I got to the final round with a chance to grab the jackpot, and the question was about Gold Dagger Award winning crime writers. We didn’t get it right back then, but there’s a sort of poetic justice in the fact that I ended up reading a book which would’ve won me nearly £10,000, if only I’d read it a couple of years earlier.What a shame!
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.
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.
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 won...how 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!
on 1 January 2001
As a first time Morse reader, who has since read all of the novels, I found this book one of the most satisfying I have ever read. As a bookworm, I relish it when I have found a genuine, compulsive, page-turner of a book (note the Oxford comma). I had seen many of the TV films, so knew the characters, and, though there are only 13 novels (14 if you count the short-story collection, I don't) to 33 films, they are the kind you can read over and over again.
An interesting point in this book was that Colin Dexter takes into account what happens in between novels. To clarify, The Way Through The Woods was published in 1993, two years after The Jewel That Was Ours, in which time two series of Inspector Morse had been shown on ITV. Having recently seen both 'Promised Land' and 'The Death of the Self', neither of which were novels, I noticed something that, had it been absent, would grind at the eyes and ears of die hard fans. Dexter mentions that, hithero to the events in 'The Way Through The Woods', Lewis's only travel abroad had been (in addition to a single afternoon in a Calais supermarket) three weeks in Australia and two weeks in Italy. I consider this a compliment from Mr Dexter to those who both read his novels and watch the television films, which they inspired, as he knows that we would notice, was this left out.
Other than this, I would consider this the best Morse book of them all.
on 5 August 2016
Morse is just not for me, sad to say. the mysteries are clever, if old-fashioned, but there are very few clues & we are also expected to untangle codes & ancient poems & know a little greek. it's very good stuff if decryption is your thing, but a Morse book is basically like one long british sunday Xword puzzle. go for it!, but i am more a police procedural type myself, i like the science.
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!