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The Dead of Jericho is the first Morse novel I have read, and here’s why: Unlike seemingly everyone else, I hated the TV series. Could not stand it. Same with Lewis. I can’t abide with all that touristy, Oxfordy, Latin-tagged, academics-killing-visiting-violinists-in-St-Gervase’s-under-cloisters stuff. Give me the gritty realism of Midsomer Murders any day.
I’ve avoided the Colin Dexter books as a result, despite their reputation. So I was surprised to find myself enjoying The Dead of Jericho. It does get off to a tweedy start with a line of Latin in the opening paragraph, but I kept my nerve and ploughed on.
Morse, drunk at a party, flirts with Anne Scott, an attractive younger woman who takes a liking to him and gives him her address. He doesn’t follow her up on her offer at the time, but six months later he changes his mind and pops round to her house in the Jericho area of Oxford. The house is quiet but the door is open and he goes in to call out for her. Still no answer, but Morse’s instincts tell him that somebody is hiding from him upstairs and he beats a diffident retreat. Later that day, Anne is reported dead. What at first seems like a straightforward suicide soon proves to be the first knot in the very tangled web which Morse has to unpick. He works unofficially at first, not wishing to reveal that he had visited Anne on the same day, but soon comes clean and is handed the case.
Morse is an interesting protagonist. Perhaps I never watched the TV version enough to gauge his character, but I would have summed him up as: crosswords, real ale, opera, grumpy. All of which is true, as his colleague Bell summarises:
Cleverest bugger I’ve ever met… he usually seems to be able to see things, I don’t know, half a dozen moves ahead of the rest of us… Spends most of his free time in the pubs – or listening to his beloved Wagner.
(I think ‘his beloved Wagner’ sounds less like a policeman than anything I’ve ever read.) However, Morse is more than the sum of these parts. He is refreshingly human:
What an idiot – what a stupid idiot – he was! It was that first, cowardly evasion of the truth that had caused it all – all because he didn’t want it to be known he had been floating around in Jericho looking for some necessary sex one afternoon.
Sergeant Lewis doesn’t really get to show his face until part three, but when he does, it’s clear that the John Thaw/Kevin Whateley on-screen dynamic was pretty accurate. Lewis is in many ways the perfect ‘Watson’. Whilst my reading of this paragraph is that it is satirical…
Morse knew in that moment exactly why he always wanted Lewis around. The man was so wholesome, somehow; honest, unpretentious, humble, almost, in his experience of philosophy and life. A lovable man; a good man. And Morse continued in a gentler, less arrogant tone.
…the Watson role is 100% clear in this:
He would indeed have been able to work it all out for himself had not Morse anticipated his activated musings.
To sum up: I’d recommend The Dead of Jericho to Morse fans and the Morse-averse alike.
Final destination: Back to the library
I’m glad to report that no visiting violinists were harmed in the writing of this book, and the sanctity of St Gervaise’s under-cloisters was unsullied. However, why is there a seemingly irrelevant college on the front cover? The Macmillan first edition shows a far more relevant terrace of Victorian houses.