Hello fellow Morsonians and welcome to my second Morse book review. My first review can be found by clicking here.
I’m sorry for the delay in posting a new post but as you can imagine things are rather hectic here what with college life, writing a novel, writing a book on the Lewis series etc etc. Anyway onwards and upwards.
I hope you enjoy the review. Be aware that there will be SPOILERS within this post. However I will make NO mention of who is the murderer or murderers.
Second of thirteen Morse novels.
My edition was published by Pan Macmillan Ltd.
First Published in 1976.
My edition 352 pages.
Novel was first televised on 8 March 1988 . (Series 2, Episode 2)
First Lines of the Novel.
“He felt quite pleased with himself. Difficult to tell for certain, of course, but yes, quite pleased himself really.”
Colin Dexter’s second novel is delicious in its ability to not only be enjoyable but also in its ability to frustrate you in equal measure. Its frustration comes in the amount of red herrings contained within the novel and also the way in which Morse figuratively almost trips over the solution to the crime. While reading ‘Last Seen Wearing’ I found myself thinking of the Sherlock Holmes phrase, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” This sentence sums up Morse’s method of solving the case.
Last Seen Wearing is a charming, literate novel that will please those who have read other Morse novels. The characters are, for the most part, engaging and believable. I found Valerie’s characterisation a little odd and incongruous in relation to her age and backstory. However Morse is a wonderful character written in an unapologetically honest manner.
While on the whole the dialogue is thoughtfully and skilfully written there are times when it feels unnatural and clunky but this can be forgiven in what is only Colin’s second novel.
Despite dealing with the sombre and sensitive issues of the possible death and disappearance of a young girl the novel is capable of emitting tenderness and humour. The author has managed to combine all these ingredients without allowing one to overpower the other and so spoil the recipe.
Colin has written a novel that one can honestly write about as being genuinely difficult to put down. The author has managed to avoid all those cliches that appear in so many modern crime novels. It is a genuinely powerful book that doesn’t resort to literary tricks or contorted techniques to capture the reader’s attention.
If you come to the novels from the TV series you may find some of Morse’s characteristics rather off putting; he smokes, he enjoys pornography and he curses. On rereading the novel I too find the above characteristics rather difficult to take but this is the original Morse, the Morse written by his creator Colin Dexter. Is the John Thaw Morse easier to like? Yes! But the version of Morse contained within the novel is a far cry from the soppy, politically correct inveterate halo wearing detectives that permeated the crime fiction world of the sixties and seventies.
Read and enjoy.
Chief Inspector Morse
Sergeant Robert Lewis
Chief Superintendent Strange – Morse’s superior.
Chief Inspector Ainley – The original officer on the case of the missing Valerie.
Valerie Taylor – The missing girl.
Eileen Ainley – Chief Inspector Ainley’s wife.
Reginald Baines – Second Master at Roger Bacon Comprehensive School.
Donald Phillipson – Master of Roger Bacon Comprehensive School.
Mrs Webb – The headmaster’s secretary.
David Acum – Former French teacher at Roger Bacon.
George Taylor – Valerie’s Step Father.
Grace Taylor – Valerie’s Mother.
Joseph Godberry – Lollipop Man (Crossing Guard)
Mrs Gibbs – Landlady.
John McGuire – Valerie’s school friend and one time boyfriend.
Sheila Phillipson – Donald’s husband.
Peters – Pathologist.
Dickson – Detective Constable.
Yvonne Baker – Friend of Valerie
Descriptions of Morse and Lewis.
Strange describes Morse as “I’m asking you to take on this case precisely because you’re not a very good policeman. You’re too airy-fairy. You’re too…I don’t know.”
We learn that Morse has “grey eyes“.
Morse prefers a flat pint to the fizzy keg most breweries were now producing.
“Morse firmly believed that there was nothing so unsatisfactory as this kind of halfway house pornography; he liked it hot or not at all.”
He occasionally buys a Sunday tabloid newspaper.
Morse has racist tendencies, “Look, you miserable wog.”
Lewis was a former light middleweight boxing champion.
Sheila Phillipson describes Morse as, “a slimly built man with a clean, sensitive mouth and wide light-grey eyes.”
Lewis may have had an affair during his marriage. Morse asks Lewis, “Have you ever had another woman? Lewis smiled. An old memory stirred and swam to the surface of his mind like a bubble in still water. ‘I daren’t tell you, sir.”
Books on Morse’s bedside table are “A Road to Xanadu, A selection of Kipling’s Short Stories, The Life of Richard Wagner and selected prose of A.E. Housman.”
Morse does not have a problem with blood or bodies. Morse pulls a knife out of a victim’s body while “Lewis loathed the sight of death, and he felt his stomach turning.”
Morse is terrified of Spiders.
Morse is thinking about women, “There had been women, of course; too many women, perhaps. And one or two who could still haunt his dreams and call to him across the years of a time when the day was fair. But now the leaves were falling round him: mid-forties; unmarried; alone.”
Morse sings in baritone.
Morse is anti-Welsh.
Morse speaks French.
Morse drives a Lancia.
Morse lives in North Oxford.
Music Morse Listens To in the Novel
Morse attends a performance of Wagner’s Die Walküre at the English National Opera.
Pubs mentioned in the novel.
Morse visits the King Charles in Wolvercote. If there was such a pub it no longer exists.
Baines visits the White Horse in Oxford. http://www.whitehorseoxford.co.uk/
Baines drinks in the Royal Oxford pub. If there was such a pub it no longer exists.
The Jericho Arms is where George Taylor plays darts. There is no Jericho Arms but there is a Jericho Tavern 56 Walton Street, Jericho, Oxford, Oxfordshire, OX2 6AE.
Morse drinks in the Randolph Hotel bar.
Morse also drank in the Fletcher’s Arms but again this does not exist.
All the chapter headings are mostly literary quotes so I have only mentioned those within the text of the novel.
“The pass at Thermopylae was abandoned and the Persian army was already streaming through.” The Battle of Thermopylae was fought between an alliance of Greek city-states, led by King Leonidas of Sparta, and the Persian Empire of Xerxes I over the course of three days, during the second Persian invasion of Greece. Story told by Herodotus.
Morse finds ‘Travels with a Donkey‘ on Phillipson’s desk. The book is by Robert Louis Stevenson. The full title is Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes.
Morse mentions the “seventh circle of Dante’s hell“. The Divine Comedy is a long narrative poem by Dante Alighieri, begun c. 1308 and completed in 1320, a year before his death in 1321. The narrative describes Dante’s travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise or Heaven.
Differences Between Novel and TV Episode.
Many of the characters from the novel were retained for the TV episode except Chief Inspector Ainley, Eieen Ainley, Reginald Baines, Joseph Godberry, Mrs Gibbs, Peters -the pathologist. Detective Constable Dickson and Yvonne Baker – Friend of Valerie.
Reginald Baines became Cheryl Baines. David Acum had a beard. George and Grace Taylor become George and Grace Craven. They also move from being poor to being rich.
The resolution to Valerie’s disappearance is resolved differently in the TV episode. The outcome for the Taylors/Cravens is different.
There is no Max DeBryn in the novel.
John McGuire is older in the TV episode and from being a bouncer at a strip club in the novel he becomes a Estate Agent in the TV episode. In the novel John was also at the same school as Valerie but not the John in the TV episode.
The school run by Phillipson and attended by Valerie goes from being a Comprehensive in the novel to a posh girls’ school in the TV episode.
Who is sleeping with whom in the novel is also different in the TV episode.
There are of course quite a few other differences but above are the main ones.
Ex nihilo nihil fit – Out of nothing you will get nothing.
Mrs Acum tells Morse that a conference that David Acum attended was at Lonsdale College. Lonsdale College is the fictitious college that Morse attended. Brasenose College was the stand in for Lonsdale.
Inspector Ainley lives at 2 Wytham Close, Wolvercote. There is no Wytham Close but of course there is a Wolvercote.
Morse mentions that he almost bought a house overlooking Port Meadow.
The fictional Roger Bacon Comprehensive School is located in Kidlington. It is also home to the Taylor family.
David Acum left Roger Bacon School to work a school in Caernarfon in Wales.
Donald and his wife live on Banbury Road, Oxford. Banbury Road is 5.955 km in length. Banbury Road is a major arterial road in Oxford, England, running from St Giles’ at the south end, north towards Banbury through the leafy suburb of North Oxford and Summertown, with its local shopping centre. Parallel and to the west is the Woodstock Road, which it meets at the junction with St Giles’.
One of the chapter headings is ‘Man kann den Wald nicht vor Baümen sehen‘. It is a German proverb. Roughly translated it means ‘I cannot see the forest for the trees’.
COLIN DEXTER EXPANDING OUR VOCABULARY.
Diocletian – Diocletian, born Diocles, was a Roman emperor from 284 to 305.
Peregrinations – a journey, especially a long or meandering one.
Hebdomadal – weekly (used especially of organizations which meet weekly).
Pettifogging – placing undue emphasis on petty details; petty or trivial.
Minatory – expressing or conveying a threat.
Batrachian – A frog or toad
Thurifer – an acolyte carrying a censer in a religious ceremony.
I hope you enjoyed this post. Until the next post take care.