A little late, I know, but I have been busy galloping around the world seeking the places that Kurt Wallander listened to classical music. Whilst I was away, Colin Dexter- the man who created the character which is arguably the British cultural equivalent of Wallander, Inspector Morse- celebrated his 86th birthday. As a lifelong fan of his works I would like to share the five best choices for those looking to break past the excellent TV series, which, although based loosely on the books, is completely different from them in both plotting and characterisation. Many fans of Dexter’s work are put off by his heavily literary style and frequent references to other works, but these five books are among his best and are guaranteed to engross even the most dubious of new readers.
5. The Last Bus to Woodstock: The first Inspector Morse novel is a great place to start for anyone looking to enter into an obsession with Dexter and his methodical, quick witted narratives and red-herring laden plots. Characterisation is central to Dexter’s success, and it is never more evident than when he introduces his intellectual yet emotionally stilted detective and his everyman Sergeant (who, in the books, is an elderly Welsh ex-boxer with a fondness for his overzealous superior and a thorough approach to police work, as opposed to the excitable young Geordie we are presented with in the TV series).
4. The Secret of Annexe 3: Quite possibly one of the most confusing and convoluted of Dexter’s novels, The Secret of Annexe 3 remains one of the most challenging and interesting of the Inspector Morse series, and one which provides the reader with an array of stimulation whilst showcasing Dexter’s narrative skill, as he ensures that this deeply twisted plot does not become tiresome. For those looking for a fun yet stimulating read this really is the perfect novel.
3. The Remorseful Day: It might sound a bit odd to start at the end, so to speak, and read the final Inspector Morse novel as a way of introducing yourself, however the final novel demonstrates many of the series’ best qualities, arguably better than some of the other, more dense books. A true representation of Morse’s detective prowess, filled with wry humour and wit through to the very end, this book is both thrilling and humbling, frightening and deeply emotional, as the reader sees the demise of one of the world’s finest fictional detectives through the unfurling of a very personal case.
2. Death is Now My Neighbour: Intelligent and subtle in its plotting and determined in its narrative, this novel explores human nature in much greater depth than many of Dexter’s works. Whilst affairs of the heart and complicated human emotions abound throughout his bibliography there is a true rawness to Death is Now My Neighbour thanks to the strong characterisation of the main suspects and the tense dialogue incorporated throughout the novel.
1. The Way Through the Woods: Partially set in Lyme Regis, a stunning seaside town on the Jurassic Coast which I am well acquainted with, The Way Through the Woods is Dexter at his best, as he provides Morse and the ever faithful Lewis with a puzzle designed to showcase his protagonist’s ability to construct a story, without necessarily having the evidence to support it. This clear satire of the traditional detective story narrative is brilliantly woven to produce a novel which is both intellectually stimulating and intriguing on a more base level, as the reader seeks to identify the culprit to an ever evolving crime.