This is a very self-contained story that centres on members of an American group who are travelling around England on an exclusive tour visiting places of historical and artistic significance, and those responsible for the Oxford part of their trip.
As is not uncommon, Morse and Lewis do not appear at the beginning. Rather we are introduced to the tour leader, John Ashendon, the curator of the Ashmolean Museum, Dr. Theodore Kemp, and the events organiser for the university, Sheila Williams. The latter have been having an affair for some time but Kemp now has his eye on someone else. The Americans include several retired couples, including Laura and Eddie Stratton, and the very opinionated Janet Roscoe the bane of other group members, their hosts and hotel staff. As ever, all of these characters are hiding secrets and several are involved with one another.
Laura Stratton has brought back to Oxford the ‘Wolvergate Tongue’, part of a Saxon belt buckle that was part of the estate of her first husband. She intends to present this to the Ashmolean who hold the other part of the buckle. Laura and Kemp have been communicating about this and the latter is relishing the publicity. Unfortunately before the presentation can be made the tongue is stolen and Laura is found dead, apparently following a heart attack. Enter Morse and Lewis. Subsequently one of the main characters is found dead.
Dexter perfectly describes Morse’s manner of detection [‘One of the most extraordinary things about the man’s mind was that any check, any set-back, to some sweet hypothesis, far from dismaying him, seemed immediately to prompt some second hypothesis that soon appeared sweeter than the first.’] and the frustration that Lewis feels as a result.
An initial difficulty with the story is the author’s need to introduce and describe a number of characters, and whilst he is able to do this for his English characters there is insufficient space to do this equally well for the Americans. As a consequence when these enter the story at different stages it is sometimes difficult to remember their backstories and motivations. From time to time the author’s transcription of American accents jars; even in 1991 it was far from humourous.
At this point in their relationship the characters of Lewis and Morse are very well defined but the latter’s insensitivity towards his junior colleague is still difficult to take. One wants to give Morse a shake and tell him just how badly he is behaving towards a colleague who holds him in such high regard, positively worshipping his deductive abilities. Part of Morse’s attitude may result from Lewis generally being the person who brings evidence that contradicts and destroys his current theory and sends him, and the reader, back to reconsider the case from a different perspective.
The hard slog of detection is always directed towards Lewis except when it might involve interviewing women that he finds attractive. At the end of this story he gets his comeuppance. Increasingly one seems some very dark and disturbed aspects in the detective’s overall character.
The relationship between Morse and Max, the pathologist, is based on mutual respect and Dexter injects a lot of barbed humour into their exchanges that are rather more extended than is usually the case. Elsewhere the humour is occasionally rather too contrived [Morse suggests that a serial philanderer’s motto is ‘amo amas amat it again’].
The final part of the book sets up and delivers a Poirot-style confrontation of the killer in a room full of avid listeners. Dexter continues to employ his very satisfying trait of preceding each chapter by a relevant literary quotation.
I read that this novel was developed from an episode of the TV series Inspector Morse, not written by Colin Dexter. Something must have appealed to the author for him to use it as the basis for the ninth book in the series.
This Morse novel features a death amongst a group of American tourists in Oxford. There are lots of characters and at times it was hard to keep up with them all, and the various twists and turns in the plot. However, I enjoyed this even though the denouement was a bit drawn out and convoluted, and unbelievably far too much in the style of Hercule Poirot with everyone gathered together.
For Oxford, the arrival of 27 American tourists is nothing out of the ordinary ... until one of their number is found dead in Room 310 of the Randolph Hotel. It looks like a sudden - and tragic - accident. Only Chief Inspector Morse appears not to overlook the simultaneous theft of a jewel-encrusted antique from the victim's handbag. Then, two days later, a naked and battered corpse is dragged from the River Cherwell. A coincidence? Maybe. But this time Morse is determined to prove the link ... .
That's the book in a nutshell and I am not giving anything away here because this is what it says on the back of the book. You can read it before you read the book.
Even though one can rather quickly establish an idea why the old lady is dead and who stole the antique and who might have done her in, all this does not seem to be important to Chief Inspector Morse. He completely ignores the old lady and her jewel and concentrates solely on the other corpse. In the end, he solves that murder and it does make sense in a way. He also solves the death of the old lady and the possible whereabouts of the antique, but these really do appear as an unimportant side-affair.
What I didn't particularly like about the book is that because of so many people involved - some of whom entertain rather interesting relationships amongst themselves - there are too many potential plots, which made it rather difficult for me to figure out what is happening. And because of that I found it almost impossible to follow Inspector Morse's train of thought. If it wasn't for his great reckoning at the end of the book, I would be left in the middle of nowhere.
On a positive note, the title of the book is excellent. The reader may have an idea what is meant by `The Jewel' but towards the end of the book it becomes quite clear that there is more than one possibility.
If you are new to Colin Dexter I would recommend one of his earlier books to begin with instead because this one might put you off Colin Dexter altogether. And that would be a shame.
When a group of wealthy Americans appears in Oxford on a guided tour, one of the women in the tour is on a special mission. A rare and historically valuable jewel had come into the possession of her late husband. It was his wish that that the jewel be donated to a museum in Oxford and, in the company of her new husband, the woman has carried the jewel to Great Britain to deliver it herself. However, the night before she is to donate the gift, she dies of an apparent heart attack and her purse containing the jewel is stolen.
This would hardly seem to merit the attention of Chief Inspector Morse; after all, there is no homicide involved and he's not about to waste his time investigating a simple theft. But after determining that the lady did, indeed, die of natural causes, Morse can't help but think that something very odd is going on here.
When another person associated with the tour is found dead, it clearly is a homicide and Morse and his faithful sergeant, Lewis, are on the job. As is always the case when Morse confronts a killing, the puzzle is very complex and it's going to take a very keen mind to sort this one out. But, of course, as readers of this series know full well, Morse has exactly that sort of mind, and, as always, it's fun to watch him sort through the issues and the characters involved until he's satisfied that things have properly fallen into place.
This is another of those intricate English mysteries that could never occur in real life. But it's entertaining to suspend disbelief and watch Morse work his magic once again. This is a book that will appeal to lots of those who love traditional British mysteries.