THE WORLD OF INSPECTOR MORSE: A COMPLETE A-Z REFERENCE FOR THE MORSE ENTHUSIAST by “Christopher Bird”
I wrote this at the publisher’s invitation but I enjoyed doing it so much that the book soon took on the character of a pet project, despite being published under an assumed name.
The book embraces all but the last of Colin Dexter’s books, and the long series of Morse films, starring John Thaw and Kevin Whateley, that were made by Thames Television between 1987 and 1998. The following is extracted from the introduction.
The Morse stories are firmly grounded in the classic tradition of British crime fiction, where the creation of a ‘hero’ detective over a number of books is as important as the murder mysteries being solved. Such books have three essential elements. First, there is the intricate plot to be unraveled, testing the ingenuity of our hero. This leads on to the second element, characterization: as the story-line develops, different aspects of the detective are revealed and readers can build up a picture of the man or woman concerned. Finally there is the geographical location, which, as with characterization, has to be consistent and contribute to moving the story along.
It is important to remember that Morse’s world is an imaginary construct, that his Oxford is not the ‘real’ Oxford. The worlds of all good novels, however realistic they may seem, are creations. If novelists should fail to make the novel's world, the reader can hardly be expected to share their vision. So although Colin Dexter (like Morse) may live in Oxford, he still has to create Morse’s Oxford. And Morse’s Oxford is, indeed, richly imagined, a fictional territory as rounded and satisfying as Holmes’s gaslit London, Maigret’s Gaulloise-perfumed Paris or the steamy Los Angeles of Philip Marlowe.
My entry on POLICE PROCEDURE begins with an extract from a Morse television script, Second Time Around, written by Daniel Boyle.
DAWSON: You’ll get there, Morse. You’re a good detective.
MORSE: But a bad policeman?
DAWSON: I think so, yes. The law is our only weapon, Morse. Good policemen have no wish to see it weakened.
MORSE: I work with what’s laid down.
DAWSON: Neutral? You’re hardly that, Morse. Your views are known.
Morse may well claim to work with “what’s laid down” but he does not care much about police procedure, and nor does his creator Colin Dexter. Morse – like Dexter – is interested first in the puzzle and second in justice. He will do anything in his power, however unorthodox, to crack the first and bring about the second – whether it is breaking and entering (The Daughters of Cain, Death is Now My Neighbour), forging letters (Last Seen Wearing), sending pseudo-Victorian verses to The Times packed with clues (The Way Through the Woods), searching without a warrant (Driven to Distraction), investigating another officer’s case (Last Seen Wearing, Service of All the Dead, Masonic Mysteries, The Way Through the Woods) or posing improbably as an expert in the breeding and raising of cattle (Promised Land).
Morse hates routine, although when he wants to be he is an ‘extremely able administrator’ (The Riddle of the Third Mile) and, if the mood is on him, capable of a ferocious work-rate. At other times his procedures when conducting an enquiry can be anarchic and even lackadaisical. He constructs chimerical theories, relying on hunches and random association – more like a poet than a policeman, and usually with several glasses of real ale inside him.
These methods lead to all sorts of problems: ‘Often in the past Morse had similarly been six or so furlongs ahead of the field only later to find himself running on the wrong racecourse.’ (The Way Through the Woods: 46)
The test of a theory for Morse is a prickling around the shoulders and the hair rising around the name of his neck. If he feels those symptoms, he always knows he is onto something.