Friday, November 18, 2016

Colin Dexter: The Last Bus to Woodstock

Colin Dexter
The Last Bus to Woodstock
Police Procedural
Oxford, UK
Detective:  Inspector Morse

This is the first in the highly acclaimed series featuring Inspector Morse.  I first encountered Morse in the BBC/WGBH TV adaptations on Mystery Theatre.  I think they produced most of the novels and then went on to televise another 20 or more shows based on the characters created by Colin Dexter.  The TV shows introduced me to Inspector Morse and Sgt. Lewis just as they introduced me to a several other mystery series, including P. D. James' Commander Adam Dalgleish.

In this novel, Morse and Lewis work together for the first time and establish their professional and personal relationships that will extend through another twelve novels.  In addition, the basic themes that permeate the series appear here.  Most prominent are, of course, his drinking and his irascibility.  In addition, he falls in love with one of the suspects,  a very questionable act in a murder investigation.  He also has a great love for classical music and is usually shown listening to some work while at home. 

Moreover, he works his way through several theories about the identity of the murderer, each of which he is absolutely convinced is the only possible solution.  This results in  the ongoing conflict between Morse and Sgt. Lewis, who is far more cautious and reluctant to settle on one theory when he sees other possibilities.  And, as usual, Sgt. Lewis does most of the tedious and tiresome research which ultimately produces the clues Morse jumps on to solve the case.

My major problem with this novel is the character of the killer.  I don't find it believable.  At the end of the novel, I was reminded of another mystery I had read in which I also found the identity of the killer hard to accept.  Something was wrong.

It so happened that I read that book for a mystery group, and the author attended the meeting.  Hoping to get some sort of discussion on the issue started, I asked the author if she plans out her novels in advance or begins with an incident or character and goes on from there. She said she had planned this one out, but when she got near the end, she felt it wasn't going to work with that character as the killer, so she changed and made another character the killer.  I think that was the problem, that there was inadequate preparation that tied the new character to the crime.

I wonder if something similar happened in Dexter's novel.  He had set it up so that one character would be the killer, but near the end, he changed his mind.

In any case, it was an enjoyable read.  He went on to write another 12 novels and short stories about the cases of Inspector Morse and Sgt. Lewis.


  1. I downloaded a Morse book (DEATH IS NOW MY NEIGHBOR) to my Kindle months ago, but when I tried to read it, I just couldn't get into the swing of things. Maybe it's that I was all 'Morsed out' from the series. Who knows? But I'll wait, and try again at some point. Don't you hate it when the killer is not satisfactory? Another thing I dislike is when the motive is not equal to the crime. You have all that reading time invested and blah! Was THAT what it was all about?

    1. Yvette,

      Could be--too much at one time. Sometimes a vacation is very helpful.

      I vaguely remember reading one in which the author made the point that whether a motive is sufficient is subjective. What may be an insufficient motive to many might be sufficient to the killer.

      The killer almost got away with it because the police decided that the killer really didn't have a good reason to want to kill the victim and therefore didn't look too closely at the killer. It was only when the police had eliminated those with strong motives that they took another look at the remaining suspects.

      Unfortunately I remember neither the author nor the title.

  2. Fred, you might be correct in your assessment; however, it seems to be that the plot works because it exposes Morse's Achilles' heel: heart v. mind (i.e., Morse nearly allows his emotions to get in the way of solving the case -- and he must overcome and endure the pain of his blind-spot in order to nab the killer). It all combines to make Morse a very human and fallible version of Poe's Dupin and Doyle's Holmes. What do you think?

    1. R.T.,

      Well, the novel works for the reason you state--Morse's very human failings. The other element that made the story work was the presence of Sgt. Lewis. He's the perfect complement to Morse's weak points.

      I don't think that this plot works though. However, many others may disagree, for this was the first novel, and enough people bought it to convince the publisher to go with another one.

      On the other hand, I could be wrong about my assessment and there really isn't a plot problem.

  3. the mrs. and i enjoyed the tv series and we liked Lewis better than Morse... i've tried to get into the books but i found them inferior to the tv show; don't know why, maybe i didn't try hard enough... Dexter's style, i think, was off-putting for me... perhaps i'm too used to older writing styles, nineteenth to mid twentieth century...

    1. Mudpuddle,

      Tastes differ. I enjoyed the TV shows, but I thought the novels were better because the plots were more complex and the various characters were more developed.