Friday, January 14, 2011

The Dead of Jericho

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 The Dead of Jericho (Macmillan, 1981).

Sometime in the mid-nineties, a few months before I first read this novel, the fifth in Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse series, I saw the adaptation starring John Thaw repeated on A&E. I was already a little familiar with the character from a couple of the TV episodes; PBS's Mystery! broke the movie-length stories into two parts and I started with one of the made-for-TV stories from series four. At any rate, I would have been happy to have kept Morse as just a TV-only affair - who had time to do all that reading? - but the TV version of The Dead of Jericho was so darn good that I wanted to come back to it.

The episode, incidentally, featured the great Patrick Troughton in one of his last roles as a bitter old peeping tom who is implicated in the death of a woman who lives across the road, and who saw Morse enter the woman's flat several hours before her body was found, an apparent suicide. But if this is a suicide, there's a strange matter of a missing key, and a very curious blackmail attempt made on a publisher friend of the deceased. But the most likely suspect of this attempt is illiterate, so who wrote the demand?

This was a really fun read, full of false starts and scenes of Morse being cranky and breaking the law to get around little obstacles. The really nice thing is that it's been so long since I've seen that TV version that I'd forgotten about the really neat trick to create an alibi for a character. The same thing that must have had me once wanting to read a book version to see how Dexter originally did it now has me wanting to track the television adaptation down to see it on screen again. Obviously recommended.

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