An Inspector Morse Novel
Publisher: Crown, Random House
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.
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Reviewed for MCT by Jac Wright.