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The first Morse and Lewis vehicle: Nothing to do with Joni Mitchell!
on 26 March 2017
I have never read any of this series, and only ever caught one or two episodes of the TV series (though I might now watch as comparison, at some point), so it was interesting to come purely to the book. Where I found things to enjoy, and some things, not so much
The not so much can be encapsulated in a following quote. The crime to be unravelled is the rape and murder of a young woman, whose body is discovered in a car park. Inspector Morse is leading the investigation, and at one point, trying to disentangle events and clarify the identity of the murderer says to Sergeant Lewis:
“Raping isn’t easy they tell me if the young lady isn’t too willing”
Now I have no idea, given that this is the first in the series, whether this reflects the author’s belief at the time of writing (initially published in 1975), police thinking at the time, or Morse’s own erroneous belief, and whether this is something which will further develop. The statement is presented really without comment on it.
One of the things I did like very much was the absence of much gratuitous and violent sexual detail. Whilst I don’t think that a statement as above would get by without some character challenging or commenting on that statement, or authorial distance from it being obvious, something negative which has happened in intervening years in crime fiction is a lurid, titillating approach to sex and violence being wreaked upon women, the serial killer on the loose fiction genre. Graphic description seems commonplace, and is constantly ratchetted up. Dexter focuses here far less on indulging a kind of voyeuristic prurience, and far more on the more mainstream reasons why someone might be driven to murder.
Something else I liked enormously, is of course that this is indeed a novel of relationship and character, as much as police procedural, and it is easy to see why this did indeed make for an ongoing series of books, and of course, that TV series. Here is book 1 is already a wonderfully layered relationship getting going between Morse and Lewis, between someone who seems absolutely settled as a moral touchstone, and someone who perhaps struggles more with the challenges of what it means to be human, and in relationship with others.
And, (hurrah) shot through the grim business of dealing with crime on a daily basis, is of course the necessary leaven on humour. Sometimes this is given by characters, who have their own flashes of humour, and sometimes it is Dexter himself:
“..studio 2 in Walton Street was presenting a double sexploitation bill whose titles were calculated to titillate even the most jaded appetite. The first, 20.0-3.05 p.m. was Danish Blue (not, judging from the mounds of female flesh that burst their bounds in the stills outside, a film about the manufacturing of cheese)”
“the police car parked itself, with no objection from porters, orderlies or traffic wardens, on a broad stretch of concrete marked ‘Ambulances Only’. A policeman’s parking lot was sometimes not an unhappy one”
Such lightly thrown wordplay as the last is likely to see me wanting to go further with this series. Yes, there is some slightly clunky writing, particularly in dialogue (as I think my first quote also shows) but The Last Bus to Woodstock kept me hooked and interested.