Inspector Morse revisited through books

26/06/2018 // by admin

  About forty years ago Colin Dexter,  then working in  the Oxford Education Office,  found himself and his family on holiday in North Wales. It was raining and as he had nothing else to do he started to write a detective story. Two years later his book Last Bus to Woodstock, a mystery featuring a detective named Morse, was published. The scene of this, and all the novels that followed, was  university city Oxford. Today tourists travel to Oxford just to see places featured in the novels and the television series featuring the actor John Thaw.  I have been particularly intrigued by the Morse novel that Dexter published in 1989, The Wench is Dead. When I first read this story I was immediately reminded of a much earlier novel by Josephine Tey entitled The Daughter of Time, published in the 1950’s. A Scotland Yard detective finds himself in hospital and starts to research the ancient mystery of the death of the Princes in the Tower in the  15th century. Did their uncle, King Richard III, kill them in order to claim the English throne? Colin Dexter also took an old murder mystery and portrayed Inspector Morse,  bedridden with a bleeding ulcer, as being intrigued by “the Murder on the Oxford Canal”,  said to have taken place in 1859. The author got the idea from  a real-life murder in 1839. Two men were executed for the murder of Christina Collins on a canal boat and I was intrigued to discover that a third man, William Ellis, may possibly have been transported to Australia. I am deeply grateful for research help by the National Library in trying to trace this convict, though his paper trail seems to have gone cold and he was probably acquitted. I found it fascinating to read Dexter’s novel The Wench is Dead and then to compare it with the television adaptation. In the book Morse says he is sick in body but his mind is still sharp. He enlists his sergeant, the ever patient Lewis, to do the leg work in researching this cold case. However in the television version Morse meets an attractive female American academic who is researching the case. It is a compelling story. Like all good authors Colin Dexter puts so much of himself into the character of Inspector Morse. Dexter loves crosswords, the more cryptic the better. He got the name for his fictional detective, Morse, from Sir Jeremy Morse, banker and noted creator of crossword clues. Dexter says that murder mysteries are like crossword puzzles. Dexter is a classical scholar and a wide reader and many of the Morse stories include fascinating bits of erudite information, and quotes from the author’s reading. Morse has been described as melancholy, vulnerable, sensitive, independent, ungracious and mean in little things. His sergeant, Robbie Lewis, has to buy the beer in the pub where they ponder a mysterious case. Morse never seems to have any money. But he always has time for an attractive woman. He pretends that he has no Christian name, just “Morse”. If they ask for a first name he says “Inspector”. A number of the thirteen Inspector Morse novels that Dexter wrote include a strong religious theme. Morse has no time for the church, though his Sunday School background is mentioned. The novel Service of All the Dead is set in a fictitious Oxford church named St Frideswide. There is in fact no such church but as St Frideswide is the patron saint of Oxford visitors might expect one. Dexter makes that church the scene of no less than four murders and finally on the tower the murderer is cornered and Morse is saved from almost certain death by Lewis.  The description of every part of this High Anglican or Anglo-Catholic Parish is remarkably authentic. The little details of music and vestments and ritual and architecture, even the smell of the incense at High Mass, and the appearance of the hymn books and prayer books, rings true for those who have been regular worshippers in such parishes, as I have. The author certainly knows the Church of England. Morse loves the sacred music and sometimes sings in church choirs. He questions formal Christian doctrine but admits the continuing fascination he has for the person of Jesus Christ, as so many do in the modern world. Colin Dexter wrote thirteen Inspector Morse novels, but the television series numbered thirty-three episodes. He took a keen interest in the plot of all the television films and worked with the writers of many of them. He made a cameo appearance in almost all episodes and it is fun to pick him out. One episode, Promised Land, was filmed in Australia where Morse and Lewis investigate a “cold case”. They spend much of their time in Canowindra, renamed “Hereford” for the series, but the sign posts to Orange and Eugowra give the location away. Colin Dexter does not make a cameo appearance in that one. The story ends with Morse and Lewis back in Sydney and Morse mounting the steps to the Opera House to satisfy his passion for classical music. The Inspector Morse series, both the novels and the television dramas, are among the finest creations of British culture and are known and loved all over the world.
Nanjing Night Net

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