Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Service of All the Dead

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Service of All the Dead (Macmillan, 1979).

All right, so it took a few books, but this is one that I liked a lot. Again, it feels like Colin Dexter had been reading his P.D. James by establishing a close community of unhappy people with a lot of frustrations and secrets boiling to the surface, spending several chapters building things up to an inevitable death. But there's a delightful monkey wrench that gets thrown into readers' expectations, because after this fascinating opening, we're thoroughly expecting Morse, the book's hero, to be called in when the first body is found. It doesn't work that way at all.

Morse actually shows up while on vacation and meets one of the players long after the unpleasantness has settled. One man had been murdered and another had killed himself and three others had moved away. The killing was pinned on the suicide by the inspector of the Oxford city police - Morse works for the Thames Valley Police, apparently a different jurisdiction - and the case closed. But Morse finds the whole thing a little too sticky and ugly and starts poking into it, calling Lewis in to get him over his fear of heights, and finds a third body, months old and unidentified, but almost certainly one of the people who everybody thought had left town.

I really like the way that Morse can't relax. He's just a bundle of tightly-wound frustrations and aggravations. He's compelled to dig, constantly. It makes him very difficult to work with, and, despite trying to turn on the charm, ultimately impossible to live with, but irresistible to watch. Recommended.

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