Author: Colin Dexter –
Publisher: Macmillan Digital Audio –
Genre: Crime Fiction –
Overall rating: 5/5 –
Writing: 5/5 –
Duration: various (medium) –
Narrator: Samuel West –
Narrator/performance: 5/5 –
Impressions: 5/5 –
Performance errors: 0/5 –
Complexity/reading level: 5/5 –
Something special for the bookish type of crime fiction reader, if such a phrase makes any sense. The series is located in or around Oxford. The main character is a mature Oxford dropout with an extensive library and an alcohol addiction. For a change, he did not have a difficult divorce. Women feature prominently in all books but not as investigators. Literary references are so extensive that there are book companions to the series actually published (see for example “Inspector Morse: A Literary Companion” by Paul Taylor).
The best books in the series are, I believe, “The Wench is Dead”, “The Way Through the Woods” and “Last Bus to Woodstock”. For the first two Colin Dexter received The Gold Dagger Awards and the third was the first book in the series, allowing the Author to follow up on Morse’s intellectual adventures. I certainly enjoyed “The Wench Is Dead” the most but that may be due to the fact that “The Way Through The Woods” is extremely difficult to render in the audiobook format seeing as it is based mostly on poetry and riddles. “The Wench is Dead” is a strong contender in my personal book of the year rating.
I find it fascinating that the series is so complex and ambitious, and yet so engrossing. It is also quite even, without any really weak episodes. The main character is engaging as he is, not expected to undergo any transformation or growth. He has a rich inner life and a stoically artistic attitude. He makes mistakes. The books are full of him. Colin Dexter was able to strike a balance with the amount of the main character in the stories which is a feat in itself.
The plots are only about investigations. All detective staff is safely employed, there are no tensions related to the workplace, no imminent threat of a lay off, no money problems, no internal investigations, no suspensions, no rotten apples, no issues with the media or public relations, no gender or racial challenges. Personal and professional disappointments are resolved with honesty and openness, between peers and with an occasional joke. As idyllic and unrealistic as it may seem, it actually adds to the charm. There is an iron divide between the safe world of the police and the wide open field of the world outside. At one point I was sure that Morse would be at the center of an investigation as a suspect – but he was not. Apart from beautiful literary references, the fact that the books feel “safe” is probably their strongest advantage. I would of course prefer more professional women on board but one must remember that these books have originally been published between 1975 and 2009.
I recommenced listening to audiobooks recorded by Samuel West. I tried listening to the performance by Kevin Whately but was not able to understand the narration well enough to focus my attention. Samuel West knows several European languages (at least to read them well enough). He was also able to beautifully render both drama and poetry referenced in the book series and I thoroughly enjoyed how different they were from the rest. He is very consistent with his character impressions and in his interpretation is sometimes based on choices which are contrary to the written description of a scene which I find most interesting (in a positive way).
Good covers, consistent yet interesting. It is not possible to remember them though which may be a bad thing when it comes to orientation around the series.