Last Bus to Woodstock, Colin Dexter.

My parents often told me about the Morse TV series starring John Thaw as the title character, but I never saw it for myself. Neither have I seen any of the spin-off series Lewis, produced after Thaw’s death that follows the continuing career of Morse’s “sidekick”.

But over the past few weeks I did take the opportunity to enjoy most episodes of Endeavour, a show depicting the early career of Endeavour Morse (who for understandable reasons insists on everyone using his family name only). That program has now ended on our local channels, until the news series is aired.

dexterThe character of Morse is based on the novels of Colin Dexter, and I was able to pick up an omnibus edition of his first two books at a charity shop. Strangely that edition reverses the order of the books, so anyone not realising, would naturally read them in the wrong order. Fortunately I realised before starting.

Last Bus to Woodstock not only introduces Inspector Morse, in that story he also meets his ongoing assistant, Sergeant Lewis. They are brought together to investigate the rape and murder of a young woman, found dead in a pub car park.

Readers are led with Morse through several possible scenarios, with a variety of perpetrators, and a few red herrings. It seems to be a contradiction to say that before the end of the book I’d correctly picked out the killer but also got it wrong.

Morse at times was contrary and manipulative in his relationship with his investigating partner Lewis, producing some amusing situations. He readily accepts the offer of a drink from one witness, but denies the same offer to his sergeant because he is “on duty”.

While the book overall was an enjoyable read, there is one aspect that was deeply troubling. Often it’s tempting to wrongly attribute a character’s viewpoint to the man who is writing that character. We need to make that differentiation – just because a character’s views are offensive, it doesn’t mean the author shares or approves of those views. But this book made me wonder.

At one stage a potential suspect expresses highly offensive views about rape – suggesting that rape is practically impossible (as if rape victims must have some complicity in the act against them).  As offensive as that opinion is, I recognised that it reflected the character and added to the possibility of his involvement in the crime. But then – a little later, very similar views were expressed by Morse, the book’s primary “good guy”.

Those circumstances made me consider that those views could also be expressions of the author’s own beliefs. That’s something I’ll keep in mind, and will consider when I read the other story (Dexter’s second novel) that came in this “omnibus” volume.