Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Silent World Of Nicholas Quinn - Colin Dexter

 The last Inspector Morse novel I read was The Remorseless Day in which Colin Dexter killed off his irascible character, Inspector E. Morse. Previous to that I had read over half of Dexter's novel as they were a staple there for a while in our house. As a rule I don't usual find crime novels particularly appealing. They, along with horror, and science fiction, rarely find their way into my hot little hands. But Morse is an intriguing character as is his creator who he somewhat egotistically bases him on.

 Of course the Morse novels spawned the highly successful television series of which their were thirty three episodes made. Twenty more than actual written novels. Dexter is such an egoist that he mirrors Alfred Hitchcock who made cameos in several of his films. Dexter does the same in many of the Morse series. Of course it is a bit of tongue in cheek homage, but really both Hitchcock and Dexter are just showing off their inflated egos and self worth to us all.

 It is actually difficult to write a strictly novel review in this case without referring to the series. After Morse was killed of the series was kept alive with Lewis for sixteen more episodes. I felt that the series tempered both Morse and Lewis somewhat. In the novels Morse is bad tempered and snaps at Lewis a lot. Lewis and he aren't quite as chummy in the novels either. Morse is too egotistical to ever think much of anyone else but himself, and is quite dis-missive of Lewis. This adds so much interest to the novels as Morse and Lewis are like chalk and cheese. As you read them you sympathise with Lewis and feel angry at Morse's treatment of him. Morse is also somewhat crude and lewd, almost a dirty old man. Thaw was nothing of the sort. The Lewis in the series is a real wet blanket where as in the novels he maybe isn't quite the brightest bulb in the box, but he is methodical and respects Morse even though he hates him at times. I feel in the series he was too dim witted, where as in the novels he was actually a bit sharper.

 As much as I like the TV series I prefer the novels. Morse is a more interesting character than that portrayed by Thaw. He is a man you are both intrigued by, and yet have reservations about. Lewis finds him un-necessarily crude at times and he is. Morse is a show off and his crudeness is just to ruffle people up. He is also a raving egoist. He quite often tells people he meets that he ' has the best mind in Oxford'!! I mean come on! How egotistical can you get. For me that is why I like Morse. He has many dualities to his make up which I both admire and loath him for. Certainly Colin Dexter has put great thought in creating Morse by giving him great strengths, particularly of mind, but deep flaws as well. He has given Morse a literary face.

 I can't help but feel with Morse though that Dexter has put alot of himself into the character. I'm not just talking about Dexter's own interests such as ale, English literature, cryptic crosswords, etc, but his characteristics and personality. I think Colin Dexter is a vain egotistical man with an extraordinary intellect who knows it. Just as his creation does. Dexter reminds me of Samuel Pepys. In his diary Pepys wrote his own thoughts on himself mentally and of his personality etc. It was an extra- ordinary self examination and in Morse I feel that Dexter has done a similar thing all be it in a fictionalised way. Some how as you read Morse you feel you are inside Colin Dexter himself and not a character of fiction. Morse/Dexter knows his faults but is unable to apologise for them. Raving egoists are simply unable to do that. 

 In this particular novel too we get a character who Dexter is able to give credibility to through his own life experiences. Dexter was a teacher who had to retire because of deafness. He took up a position at UODLE in oxford. In this novel we have Nicholas Quinn who is accepted into a similar position even though he is almost totally deaf. Later in the novel Morse finds out that Quinn was an exceptional lip reader. Dexter goes into how Morse finds how how certain letters are difficult for lip readers to distinguish between.  He arrests the wrong man and then realises that because of the similarity between the actual murderers name and his arrestee he has the wrong person. As I read this I was amazed at Dexter's knowledge. It was only reading about him on wikipedia that I saw how and where the idea for the novel came from. Quinn is a quiet representation of Dexter himself and his own deafness.

 That is the crux of why I like the Morse novels. It is Dexter's knowledge that is more personal than researched. He knows Oxford, and I love being guided around that most famous of university cities by him. He is very clever as in each novel he never revisits the same parts of Oxford. Occasionally a main thoroughfare, such as Woodstock Road, is mentioned, but never the same buildings, pubs, or suburbs, etc.

 As I have previously stated I very rarely read crime novels. Dexter is apparently a devious crime writer and I have yet to figure out 'who done it' yet from any of his novels. I'm not sure if it is because Dexter intentionally writes the novels in a way as they can't be figured out, or if I'm just not attuned enough with crime writing to do so. Either way I still enjoy the Morse novels and give each one as much thought as I can in figuring out the ending. I notice though that Dexter has never had a butler as a murderer!!

 So far I haven't read a Morse novel I liked over another. They are all devious and riddled with red herrings. Morse is an intriguing character and I read these novels more for him than for the crime genre per se. As novels they are eminently readable with many interesting and obscure words thrown in. They are generally only about three hundred pages long with medium sizes print. I can knock a Morse novel out in about three hours reading time. Sometimes I can read them too fast and miss important facets of the plot, which catches me out towards the end as Morse is unravelling it all too the reader and a flabbergasted Lewis.

 The Morse novels are great reads. I enjoy them and can't escape the feeling they are written by a towering egoist!! Morse as a character is one of the more memorable I have come across in a franchise. I like him because he is so interesting and flawed in his own way. He may be vain and intellectually blessed but he is also human. That for me is why Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse is so believable, because like you and me he has his strengths and weaknesses and knows what they are.

 Click here for a short biography of Colin Dexter and information on the Morse novels:

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