Inspector Morse is the title of a series of books by British author Colin Dexter and the television show based upon them. Set in Oxford, they star the eponymous detective, an alcoholic , opera-loving bachelor whose analytical mind is as adept at solving both crossword puzzles and crime as well as spotting a spelling mistake at five hundred yards. I fear that ralston’s writeup above would have incurred a severe rebuke, mistaking as it does, there for their.
Here I must make a confession. I have not read any of the books. With the exception of Sherlock Holmes, I have never gotten on particularly well with written detective fiction; when I read for pleasure I tend to make up my own details, which often conflict with those the author had in mind. Despite the narrator’s insistence, my imagination will refuse to place the pantry door in the correct position to allow the assailant to slip out unseen by the housekeeper!
Still, the books, which were written between 1975 and 1999, were and remain very popular. I gather from reviews that Dexter, a crossword setter, uses comparatively sophisticated prose compared with other crime novelists. The plots, it seems, are agreeably complex but reliably arrive at satisfying conclusions after a series of pleasing twists and developments. Criticism tends to be from those who are not fond of the common tropes of detective fiction, or alternatively, based upon a dislike of the characters who may have become somewhat dated over time.
I apologise for the paucity of information I can provide on this subject, a better noder than I must make up the shortfall.
The TV Series
This, I am far better acquainted with. The Inspector Morse TV series, starring John Thaw as Morse, was made by ITV between 1987 and 2000 and is frequently repeated on ITV 3. I gather it is also syndicated around the world. Each episode is a satisfying length, generally an hour or ninety minutes including infrequent ad breaks, and are generally sensibly structured so as to give the audience a sporting chance of working out who the villain is before the big reveal at the end.
Inspector Morse is a particularly enjoyable detective show for a number of reasons. For one thing, it stars an actual detective. I have always found it to be something of a distraction when a doctor, or a magician or worst of all, a writer of detective fiction for some reason spends their time encountering and solving murders. Not only that though, but this detective is relatively believable. Whilst Morse might fit the trope of being a maverick who doesn’t play by the rules but gets the job done, his flaws feel comfortably within the realms of normality, consisting mostly of drinking too much and being somewhat surly. Moreover whilst he might have above average powers of memory and intuition, he is not superhuman. Morse frequently makes mistakes.
Holmes, of course, must have his Watson. For Morse, he comes in the shape of Sergeant Lewis. A middle-aged Welshman in the books, the TV show cast him as a young-ish family man from Newcastle. Here the advantage of Morse’s relatively rounded character can be realised. Lewis is more than an audience surrogate, expressing surprise and admiration at Morse’s brilliance, but is a competent detective in his own right, often on the right track well before his irascible superior. Morse and Lewis feel like a genuine team, rather than a hero and his sidekick.
What really secures Inspector Morse in the ranks of the great television detective programmes however is its atmosphere. Where Sherlock Holmes is set against picturesque Victoriana and Agatha Christie’s Poirot rejoices in its nineteen thirties art deco splendour, Morse resides beneath the dreaming spires of Oxford and touches of the city’s academic unworldliness are found throughout the series. Foremost is the soundtrack. Morse is a lover of classical music, particularly opera and perhaps the quintessential scene is him sitting heavily in an arm chair, pondering a case, his eyes closed, cradling a glass of scotch as a Wagner record plays in the background.
I really recommend Inspector Morse as a television programme as a bit of gentle escapism, ideal for a weekday evening. It should be accompanied by a glass or two of reasonable wine or bottled ale and someone with whom to discuss theories during the ad breaks.