When Sir Clicksby Breen, at age 69, decides to retire as Master of Lonsdale College, Oxford, two in-house candidates become the frontrunners to succeed him. In both cases, their wives are at least as interested in acquiring the title of "Lady," which comes with the appointment, as their husbands are in becoming Master, and in both cases the wives have something in their backgrounds to hide. In this somewhat fragmented mystery in which the action evolves on parallel tracks, Inspector Morse is called to investigate the murder of a young woman, Rachel James, in what appears to have been a case of mistaken identity. She is the next door neighbor of Geoffrey Owens, a reporter who dabbles in blackmail, and many people have reason to want him dead, including both of the Oxford dons and/or their wives. Filled with red herrings and digressions, the mystery follows the life of the dons, the Master, their wives, reporter/blackmailer Geoffrey Owens, a neighbor who may be providing Owens with an alibi, and even the madam of a house of ill repute. The finicky and grammatically precise Inspector Morse, accompanied by his more relaxed and less educated assistant, Sgt. Lewis, play off each other to provide some moments of good humor, and the reader comes to know Morse in new ways--in his increasing fondness for drink and in his new diagnosis of diabetes. He also becomes attracted to a new woman. Though the mystery is entertaining, it is less polished than some others in this series. With a large cast of characters to develop, Dexter sometimes allows the overlaps and complexities of the characters' relationships to obscure the issue of who murdered Rachel James in her home and why, and when a second murder occurs later in the novel, the case becomes particularly complex, since the murdered person has been one of the suspects in Rachel's murder. The ending, which ties up all the loose ends, comes abruptly, and the motivation of the murderer is not as strong as it is in some of Morse's other cases. An excellent mystery, but not Morse's best case. n Mary Whipple
Chief Inspector Morse returns for his twelfth outing more than a little worse for the wear. His drinking and smoking, in particular, are now catching up with him and he's beginning to pay the price for all of the years through which he's neglected his physical well-being. Any number of people, including his faithful sergeant, Lewis, urge him to reform before it's too late, but any long-time reader of the series understands, like Lewis, that it isn't going to happen.
The demands of another complex and demanding case certainly won't help. As the book opens, the Master of Lonsdale College in Oxford has announced his retirement. Two candidates stand for election to the position. Each man wants the job very badly, although perhaps neither man wants to be the Master as much as his wife wants to be the First Lady of the college.
One would expect that the academics would get all of this sorted out within the confines of their own small world, but the larger universe intrudes when a young woman is found shot to death early one morning. There would appear to be no motive, but as Morse begins his investigation of the crime, he will discover that the poor woman did have a connection to one of the candidates in the college election. There's also a journalist involved, and the demands of the investigation will require poor Morse to have to work his way through a number of tacky strip clubs in Soho, a task he would never think to assign to his poor, overworked sergeant.
Like all of the Morse mysteries, this one is densely complicated, and only someone as gifted as the Chief Inspector will ever be able to sort it out--assuming that he lives long enough to do so. This penultimate addition to the series is another very very entertaining read, even if a little bittersweet, knowing that we're approaching the end of the line. It should certainly appeal to any fan of the series.
Another intriguing Morse story, full of the usual twists and turns and Morse getting it wrong more than once but, as ever, ending up at the right conclusion. Kevin Whateley is marvellous at reading these stories - we get the ever faithful Lewis, whose tones we are so familiar with and he really does convey Morse's grumpiness, his frustration and his delight when he finally figures it all out. It could almost be the much missed John Thaw.