"Service of All The Dead" brings Inspector Morse into the murder of a churchwarden where nothing is what it appears to be. As usual Colin Dexter conjures up a magnificently twisting plot that starts out simply and revolves into another complex mystery that only Morse can solve. Although the plot of the novel is quite complex, Dexter manages to ensure that the reader is not too confused and brings the action along at a speedy pace which encourages prolonged reading. The character of Morse shines through the novel in a way that it never does when watching the television version. There is a wealth of supporting characters with well plotted histories and one of the best aspects of a Dexter novel is seeing Morse discover their involvements with the central murder of the novel and this one is no exception. Their motivations are always believable, as are their characteristics. The actual details of the how and the why are a little more obvious than usual in this particular novel, but there is still a great detective story at the heart of this novel. "Service of All The Dead" is a solid detective novel with wit and thrills in abundance. Highly recommended, if not the best in the series of Morse novels.
Colin Dexter was born in 1930 and, over the course of his writing career, has won CWA Gold Dagger and Silver Dagger awards. "Service of All the Dead" was first published in 1979 and is the fourth book to feature the famous Inspector Morse.
Morse's investigation centres on St Frideswide's Church, a historic church that proves popular with the tourists. It's a while before Morse makes his first appearance, with the early part of the book setting the scene and introducing the key players. The Reverend Lionel Lawson has been the church's vicar for around ten years, and is well educated - and pretty well-off - individual. There has been some speculation about the Vicar's personal life - some believe that one of Oxford's down-and-outs in his brother, while others gossip about his alleged sexual preferences. However, he does have a very healthy bank balance...although he has suspected for a while that someone has been helping themselves to the collection plate. When the book opens, he knows his suspicions are correct - and that the pilferer is Harry Josephs, the church's Warden.
Harry is an ex-soldier who joined the Civil Service after he left the forces. He'd been made redundant two years previously, and has since only briefly worked in a pharmacy. (His redundancy is something he's still a little bitter about). Harry's wife, Brenda, works as a nurse and he suspects - correctly - that she's having an affair with Paul Morris, the church's organist and a music teacher. Morris is a widower, and his son, Peter, sings in the church choir. He and Brenda have only been "together" for around three months, but he'd be very keen for Harry to conveniently disappear. (In fairness, Harry isn't exactly the innocent and wounded husband - he's been playing away from home with the church's cleaner, Ruth Rawlinson).
The book's opening section concludes in August, with the Rev. Lawson calling on Paul Morris; it then picks up again with Morse, the following April. In between times there have been two deaths at the church : Harry is dead, stabbed in the vestry and the Vicar subsequently threw himself to his death from the church's tower. Paul and Peter Morris have both left Oxford - very abruptly - and, oddly enough, so has Brenda Josephs. Despite being officially on holiday - never mind the fact that it was never his case to begin with - Morse starts poking about...
For me, this instalment is definitely better than the three previous books in the series : it has an interesting storylone and Dexter's writing has improved dramatically from "Last Bus to Woodstock". Morse's main hobbies remain drinking beer, listening to classical music and leering over the ladies - however, despite his occasional grumpiness, there's still something quite likeable about him. A quick and easy read overall.
I don't think I've read any of the Morse novels since The Remorseful Day in 1999. More than half my life ago. I saw an episode on TV and had a hankering to revisit them, so I picked this one up, as I remembered particularly grappling with it when younger, thinking I would get more out of it this time.
I certainly did - I remember being a bit puzzled by it the last time I read it, and certainly the solution is quite complex (I'm still not sure I'm absolutely clear on the motive for the first murder...), but I completely loved the experience of re-reading this. It was like returning to a favourite holiday destination after many years and finding it's still as beautiful as you remember. Dexter writes wonderfully slyly, and plots exceptionally well. The whole thing is gripping, mysterious, fun, witty, intelligent. Blah blah blah. I'm keen to re-read a few more, now.
The first thing to mention here is that this book is one of the Inspector Morse books, and indeed we get to hear a lot from the great detective here. Lewis, his faithful accomplice, doesn’t get as much of a look in until halfway through, but when he does come in, his part is triumphant and he’s the perfect sidekick.
What’s interesting to note is that the story line follows the church, and whilst I’ll admit that I’m a life-long atheist, I still found it interesting to take a look behind the scenes at the clergy, and it’s clear that Dexter did his research.
It’s a decent enough mystery, but it doesn’t stand above the other Morse books for me. In parts, it was a little complicated, with some characters posing as other characters and murky motives that I didn’t fully understand at the end of it. I wasn’t sure if it was actually enough to explain why someone would become a multiple murderer.
But I read through it quickly enough – I got from start to finish in a couple of days. It’s a gripping story that keeps you powering through and there are plenty of characters to choose from, and it’s interesting to see Morse get up to his usual tricks. There are also a couple of references to his lack of a first name – throughout the series, it’s never revealed, which is an interesting little quirk.
And the good thing about Colin Dexter’s books is the way that you can read them out of order without losing anything. Honestly, I have no idea which order you’re actually supposed to read them in, but that’s one of its unique benefits. That also means you can skip this one and read one of the better books, then come back to it later on.
Really enjoyed the book. It was my first Colin Dexter and my first Kindle read..! The book has a good twist at the end. Problem I did find with the Kindle version was that the text had not been split into chapters 'electronically' so what is supposed to move from chapter to chapter takes you to the beginning or the end. But enjoyed the book.
As a fan of Lewis predominantly I've often considered picking up the original Morse books to see how they fare to the more modern tv series. The first few novels were very good and it was romantic and nostalgic to be drawn back into the late 70's. As this book moves into the 80's Morse's character seems to have been fully developed by Dexter and, although its hard to separate the literary Morse from the obvious mental relationship with the imagery of Thaw's fine performances (he played him even better with the benefit of hindsight and a few Morse books under my bely as it was), Dexter's character is rather likeable and interesting. The plot line is an interesting commentary on morality and human foibles, Morse often displays a charming ambiguity to the former and suffers plenty of the later so in all it's a lovely and engaging read. I'll work my way through the back catalogue with relish.
I read this out of curiosity (and attracted by the cheap price!). I'm not a regular reader of crime fiction, so I can't judge how it compares with others of the genre. As a novel, it was readable and engaging, though with minimal descriptions and stereotypical characterisation for the most part and, of course, a quite ludicrous plot. Certainly, it cuts it as an easy read. The set-up is familiar from Sherlock Holmes - the brilliant but flawed detective with his dumb but brave and faithful sidekick, the local police missing the clues and the Machiavellian villain.
And in its own terms, it manages to introduce the requisite number of false trails and red herrings to keep the 'whodunnit' guesswork going. I did manage to guess the outcome about two thirds through, but without really knowing why, and other possibilities were still open. Good fun is had by all.