A Review of the Colin Dexter Novel, ‘The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn’. Includes locations, music, literary references etc.

Hello fellow Morsonians and welcome to my third book review. I hope this post finds you all well. I am in a state of anxiousness, trepidation and excitement. I start my university course in seven weeks at Edinburgh University where I will be studying English Literature.

Anyway onto why you are here.

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.

Third of thirteen Morse novels.

My edition was published by Pan Macmillan Ltd.

First Published in 1977.

My edition 294 pages.

Novel was first televised on 13th January 1987 . (Series 1, Episode 2)

First Lines of the Novel.

‘Well? What do you think?’ The Dean of the Foreign Examination Syndicate addressed his question directly to Cedric Voss, the Chairman of the History Committee.”


Those who know me are aware that I rarely read anything post 1950. My favourite era is 18th, 19th and early 20th Century novels, (Most of what I will be studying at university). The reading material I purchase from the past 20 years consists mainly of biographies. So, reading and enjoying Colin Dexter’s novels could be regarded as something of an anathema to me.

However, on re-reading Colin’s novels I still enjoy them. I still find they are a pleasant way to spend a few hours. Dexter’s novels have a vibrancy, a sense of fun and at times a dark, disturbing and chilling tone. That dark, disturbing and chilling tone is not a negative, in fact at times it contains some of Dexter’s finest writing. Here is an example. This is where Ogleby is killed;

In his own head it sounded as if he had taken an enormous bite from a large, crispy apple. His jaws seemed to clamp together, and for a weird and terrifying second he sought frantically to rediscover some remembrance of himself along the empty, echoing corridors of his brain. His right hand still held the tongs, and his whole body willed itself to pull the coal towards the bright fire. For some inexplicable reason he found himself thinking of the lava from Mount Vesuvius pouring in all-engulfing flood towards the streets of Pompeii; and even as his left hand began slowly and instinctively to raise itself towards the shattered skull, he knew that life was ended. the light snapped suddenly out, as if someone had switched on the darkness. he was dead.

That passage always, since I first read it some 30 years, chilled me to the bone. It reads like something from an Edgar Allen Poe or 18th century Gothic novel. The older I get and the closer to that ‘light snapped suddenly out’ the more chilling and upsetting it becomes.

One has the feeling through Dexter’s wordplay that he wants us to lovingly scan the words, sentences and paragraphs individually which will ultimately enable the reader to appreciate and enjoy the novel as more than just a singular entity chained to a bookshelf.

With this his third novel Colin has found his literary feet and this can be seen in the characterisation and dialogue, to name but two taxonomic sections of a novel, where Colin shows great ingenuity with barely any superfluous writing within its less than 300 pages.

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.

CHARACTERS. (Pictures from TV episode)

Chief Inspector Morse.

Sergeant Lewis.

Cedric Voss – Chairman of the History Committee.

(Not included in TV episode)

Dr Tom Bartlett – Permanent Secretary of the Foreign Examinations Syndicate.

Nicholas Quinn.

Christopher Roope.

Monica Height.

Donald Martin.

Philip Ogleby.

Margaret Freeman – Secretary.

(Not included in TV episode)

Charles Noakes – Caretaker.

Chief Superintendent Strange.

(Not included in TV episode)

Constable Dickson.

(Not included in TV episode)

George Bland.

(Mentioned but not included in TV episode)

Frank Greenaway – Neighbour of Nicholas Quinn.

(Not included in TV episode)

Joyce Greenaway – Neighbour of Nicholas Quinn.

(Not included in TV episode)

Mrs Evans – Cleaner.

Mrs Bartlett.

Richard Bartlett – Son of Dr Bartlett.

Chief Inspector Bell.

(Not included in TV episode)

Nigel Denniston – Examiner.

(Not included in TV episode)

Dr Parker – Ogleby’s doctor.

Mrs Seth – Syndic.

(Not included in TV episode)

Sheikh Ahmed.

Mrs Jardine – Owns the flat Quinn lived in.

(Not included in TV episode)

Police Surgeon (Not named)

Sally Height – Monica’s daughter.

(Mentioned but not seen in the TV episode)

Descriptions of Morse and Lewis.

  • Morse is described as having thinning hair.
  • Morse has his hair cut in Summertown.
  • His bachelor flat is at the top of North oxford.
  • “his imagination (Morse) was almost invariably fired by beer, especially by beer in considerable quantities.”
  • Morse is described as running “like a crippled stag”. Isn’t this an amazing coincidence as John Thaw did not run in a normal way due to his bad leg.
  • Lewis is said to have two daughters. In the TV series he has one son and one daughter.
  • Lewis is asked his Christian name. He answers but we the reader are not told. It is said that Lewis does not like his name.
  • Morse smokes.

Music Morse Listens To in the Novel

Morse talks of the Solti and Furtwängler recordings of Wagner’s The Ring.

Crossword Clues

In which are the Islets of Langerhans (8) – A – C – E – S (Answer at the bottom of the page).

Pubs mentioned in the novel.

Horse and Trumpet. If there was such a pub in the 1970s it no longer exists.

Donald martin talks about visiting The White Horse, The King’s Arms and the Turl Bar.

Broad Street, Oxford.

The King’s Arms on the corner of Holywell Street.

The Turl Bar closed in 2011. It was situated in Turl Street.

Literary References.

Voss says (pg 22) ‘Remember what old Sam Johnson used to say? “The fellow who doesn’t mind his belly can’t be trusted to mind anything.”

The actual quote from Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784 ) ‘He who does not mind his belly, will hardly mind anything else.’


Bartlett is described as ” Pickwickian little secretary.” A reference to Charles Dickens novel the Pickwick Papers.


Two lines of a poem are quoted;

‘The Grave’s a fine and private place, But none, I think, do there embrace…’

This is from an Andrew Marvel (1621 – 1678) poem, To His Coy Mistress.


While in a cell Bartlett’s thinks that “like Yeat’s long-legged fly, floating on silence.” This is reference to William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939) poem Long-Legged Fly.

Long-Legged Fly

by W.B. Yeats

That civilisation may not sink,
Its great battle lost,
Quiet the dog, tether the pony
To a distant post.
Our master Caesar is in the tent
Where the maps are spread,
His eyes fixed upon nothing,
A hand upon his head.

Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.

That the topless towers be burnt
And men recall that face,
Move most gently if move you must
In this lonely place.
She thinks, part woman, three parts a child,
That nobody looks; her feet
Practise a tinker shuffle
Picked up on the street.

Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
Her mind moves upon silence.

That girls at puberty may find
The first Adam in their thought,
Shut the door of the Pope’s chapel,
Keep those children out.
There on that scaffolding reclines
Michael Angelo.
With no more sound than the mice make
His hand moves to and fro.

Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.

Differences Between Novel and TV Episode.

  • In the novel Nicholas Quinn has a beard.
  • Christopher Roope has a beard and long hair.
  • Ogleby is described as 53. He is much older in the TV episode.
  • Quinn lives in a flat in Kidlington.
  • Noakes the caretaker is described as a young man.
  • Thames Valley HQ is in Kidlington.
  • Quinn lived in a semi detached in Pinewood Close and not the cottage portrayed in the TV episode.No Pinewood Close in Oxford.
  • The film playing at Studio 2 in the TV episode is Last tango in Paris. In the book the film is The Nymphomaniac.
  • The Dean of the syndicate is based at Lonsdale College, Morse’s alma mater. Not an actual college in Oxford.
  • In the book Quinn had an affair with his neighbour.
  • Roope and Roope both spoke with a broad northern accent as he came from Bradford. Quinn also came from Bradford.
  • In the TV episode a clue that helped Morse was that there was salted butter in Quinn’s fridge and Quinn didn’t like salted butter. In the novel there was already two packs of butter in the fridge when a third was purchased.
  • Richard Bartlett has a beard in the novel but is hairless in the TV episode.
  • In the novel Morse talks to Richard about Wagner, he doesn’t in the TV episode.
  • Richard Bartlett has schizophrenia in the novel. In the TV episode he is described as having an emotional imbalance.
  • In the novel Chief Inspector Bell had been involved in Ogleby’s death before it was passed to Morse. Bell doesn’t appear in the TV episode but does appear in other TV episodes like The Dead of Jericho.
  • In the TV episode Morse mentions that one of his favourite quotes was ‘No human action happens by pure chance unconnected with other happenings. None is incapable of explanation.‘ The quote is from Hans Gross one time Professor of Criminology at the University of Prague. The quote is mentioned in the novel.
  • In the TV episode Morse parks in an Ambulance parking bay. he does the same in the novel.
  • Donald Martin wears glasses in the novel.
  • Roope smokes in the novel.
  • George Bland is on the run in the novel.
  • Unlike the TV episode Morse does not become friendly with Oglegy and Ogleby is not a crossword setter.

Latin Phrases.

  • The police surgeon says “Mors, mortis‘. Means ‘death of.’
  • In a letter to Quinn the phrase ‘O tempora! O Mores!‘ It means, Oh the times! Oh the customs!
  • Ad nauseam,  a Latin term for argument or other discussion that has continued to the point of nausea.
  • Mirabile dictu, adverb, wonderful to relate.


  • The Foreign Examinations Syndicate is based in Chaucer Road. There is no Chaucer Road in Oxford but there is one in Cambridge.
  • On Quinn’s office wall there are paintings by Atkinson Grimshaw “of the docks at Hull and Liverpool.”

Hull Docks at Night Painting by John Atkinson Grimshaw

Liverpool Docks from Wapping Wharf by John Atkinson Grimshaw.

  • Morse mentions that he lived in Iffley Road, Oxford when he was an undergraduate.

  • Monica and Donald Martin were said to have parked in Cranham Terrace when visiting the cinema. Cranham Terrace is in Jericho.

  • The cinema Studio 2 is on Walton Street. There is still a cinema on Walton Street, Phoenix Picturehouse.

The Jericho Tavern to the right of the cinema is where Morse enters at the end of the TV episode.


  • Senescence: noun BIOLOGY the condition or process of deterioration with age.
  • Pellucidly: adjective, admitting maximum passage of light without diffusion or distortion.
  • Stentoriously: from the adjective Stentorian which means (of a person’s voice) loud and powerful.

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Answer to crossword clue: Pancreas.


Author: Chris Sullivan

Up until a few years ago I was my mum's full time carer. She died in, 2020, of Covid. At the moment I am attempting to write a novel.

12 thoughts

  1. Thank you for an excellent article on the Colin Dexter novels. I have to confess I tried to read one his novels and really struggled, not sure why. I do like a lot of detective books, like Agatha Christie and felt Dexter would suit me. Can you recommend of his novels to start with?
    Many thanks

    1. Hi Martin. Taste in writing is subjective and that makes it difficult to recommend a book. However, I would recommend starting from the first novel, Last Bus to Woodstock, then making your way through the rest chronologically. It would allow you to see the development of the characters and the development of Morse and Lewis’s relationship. Hope this helps.

      1. Many thanks for your reply Chris. I will do as you suggest.

  2. This was the first of Colin Dexter’s novels I read, a couple of years ago, out of sequence I know, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I have just recently completed reading his first two books, “Last Bus to Woodstock” and “Last Seen Wearing”, and now on returning to this novel and reading your review, I noticed that it is mentioned the Foreign Examinations Syndicate Building is based in Chaucer Road. This is a fictional street in Oxford, as you correctly revealed. However, I just wondered, on closer investigation, whether Colin had in mind, Canterbury Road, Oxford, as his intended location for the Syndicate Building. This is a street that appears to fit with his description in the book, and I quote, “the comparatively quiet road which links the busy Banbury and Woodstock thoroughfares, and is modestly sheltered from inquisitive eyes behind a row of tall horse-chestnut trees”. Furthermore, Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales, so that could be Dexter’s clue for this location. I could be completely wrong, but here is a link to observe the street, using the Satellite view from Google Maps: https://www.google.com/maps/@51.7651052,-1.2637346,3a,75y,90h,90t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sxFyK8Ji1_xGB0FJLqaD8Qg!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

  3. Sorry, I should have added that my full quotation is found on page 25 of this novel, and it begins with this quote, “The Syndicate Building stands some twenty yards back from (the comparatively quiet road which links the busy Banbury and Woodstock thoroughfares, and is modestly sheltered from inquisitive eyes behind a row of tall horse-chestnut trees”). I placed In brackets, the part of the quotation that I had already utilized in my previous comment.

  4. I also hasten to say that I realise the Syndicate Building is fictional. However, I was just curious as to whether its supposed location, was possibly reminiscent of Canterbury Road, Oxford.

  5. As I have already previously stated Chris, I am astounded at how many comments you are able to reply to, given what a busy university life you must lead. However, I was just curious, whether you ever observed my comments posted above, three or four months, on your review of a Colin Dexter novel. I may have made, a rather ham-fisted attempt at explaining myself back in October, and perhaps I was barking up the wrong tree, in trying to decipher a possible real life location, from a fictional road in that book. I just wondered what you thought about this possible suggestion, although I expect Dexter’s clues would be a lot difficult to fathom out, than the one I am talking about.

    1. Hi James. I usually answer the to comments when I need a break from University work or whatever else I am doing. Sorry that I missed your comment on the Dexter novel review. I think you are most probably correct in regard to Chaucer Road being in actual fact Canterbury Road. We all know of Colin’s mischievous nature so I think you are bang on with your deduction.

  6. In relation to my most recent comment above, I accidentally missed out the word “ago”, and it should have said “three or four months ago, on your review of a Colin Dexter novel”.

  7. Thanks for the reply Chris, that is very good of you. That is a first for me, in terms of spotting or deciphering a possible true life location, from a fictional location or road, mentioned in the novel. Having as yet, never been to Oxford, I have only learnt about some of its lovely locations, and where abouts they reside, in the city of dreaming spires, from the excellent research on your website. The filming locations you portray, with maps and photographs, in each episode or novel you review, has been something of an education to me. Previously, I must have watched Morse or Lewis episodes years ago, somewhat oblivious to the locations it was filmed in, or at the very least, I was not totally aware of their significance, and I didn’t realise the many filming locations utilised, in and outside of Oxfordshire. Thanks for all the good work you do on this website.

  8. Hi, I just finished the novel and something is bugging me. Why was Quinn’s name ticked in the list related to the fire drill. Sorry if this is the second time this message is being sent , I am not sure if the first one was sent .

    1. Hi DA. It was ticked by the killer, Donald Martin. When he comes out of the building saying he had been, ‘caught short’ he takes the clipboard from Dr Bartlett as if to tick his own name but he also ticks Quinns.

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