March 21, 2017

10 OUT OF 10:

Colin Dexter obituary : Crime writer who created the deep-thinking Oxford detective Inspector Morse (Dennis Barker, 21 March 2017, tHE gUARDIAN)

Intellectually rather like Morse, Dexter was a master of the literary high wire. Morse's first name was kept under wraps for years, always presenting audiences with a riddle to be solved - a riddle almost as interesting as the one about why Morse, though presented as constantly falling in love with women, never married one.

Only gradually was it leaked out that his first name began with an E. But the secret about his first name - in real life it would have appeared on documents easily accessible at the police station - was not dispelled until 1996, when there was a landslide of useful publicity about the disclosure that the name was not Edward, nor Ernest, or even Enoch, as some pundits had speculated, but Endeavour - because Morse's parents had been Quakers who greatly admired Captain Cook, whose ship bore that name. [...]

The first of the Inspector Morse novels, Last Bus To Woodstock (1975), was written because, with his wife, Dorothy, and two sons, Dexter was on holiday in north Wales at a time when the rain never seemed to stop. Thoroughly miserable and bored, he read both the detective novels in their holiday accommodation, decided that they were not much good and thought he could do better. With the benefit of medieval and suburban Oxford as the setting (Dexter reckoned that he would never have become a writer had he moved to Rotherham), Last Bus to Woodstock proved the point.

The names for the characters were chosen with the same liking for intellectual riddles as the plots. He chose the name for Morse, and for all the others in the novel, except for the murderer, from a crossword, at a time when he entered regularly for the Observer Ximenes puzzle, which was won more often by Sir Jeremy Morse and a Mrs B Lewis.

Once it was obvious that he had found a winning character and setting, Dexter seriously set about writing detective novels. There were 12 more in the Morse series, including Service of All the Dead (1979), for which he won the Silver Dagger award of the Crime Writers' Association, The Dead of Jericho (1981), another Silver Dagger-winner, The Wench is Dead (1989), for which he won the Gold Dagger, The Way Through the Woods (1992), another Gold Dagger-winner, and the last, The Remorseful Day (1999), which killed off Morse, as well as a short-story collection, Morse's Greatest Mystery (1993).

The first of 33 episodes of the Inspector Morse television series was presented in 1987, with John Thaw as Morse and Kevin Whately as Lewis, and Dexter himself appearing in various cameos. When the novels ran out, Dexter wrote additional scripts for Morse before turning over the series to other writers. The last episode, in 2000, featured Morse's death, and after Thaw's death in 2002, Dexter stipulated that no other actor should reprise the role. However, the story continued in a spin-off series, Lewis (2006-15), and a prequel series, Endeavour, with Shaun Evans as the young Morse, which began in 2012.

Dexter was often asked whether he wrote for a readership or for himself. His answer was that he wrote for his old English teacher Mr Sharp. He would write a page and then ask himself, "Would Mr Sharp like that?" His aim was to feel that Mr Sharp would give it at least eight out of 10.

Posted by at March 21, 2017 1:49 PM