Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Wench is 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 The Wench is Dead (McMillan, 1989).

Many years ago, I tried reading Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time, the book to which everybody compares this short Colin Dexter novel. I didn't enjoy it, and thought the plot, in which a modern detective in a hospital bed decides to solve the murders of Edward IV's two sons, popularly believed to be the work of Richard III, was just a really peculiar, contrived way to write a story.

Perhaps I should give it another try, because The Wench is Dead is more than a little similar to the Tey novel, and yet it's my favorite among the first eight Inspector Morse books. In this one, Morse is convalescing and reads a monograph about a murder a hundred years previously and figures that there must be more to it. He suspects that the two men hanged for a woman's murder must have been innocent, and sets about proving it, with nobody to interview. To accomplish this from his hospital bed, Morse charms a librarian into helping him, and bullies the long-suffering Sergeant Lewis to do the same.

Perhaps I really enjoyed this because, without any other characters hogging the spotlight, it really becomes much more of a study of Morse himself than any of the previous adventures. It's just a treat spending a couple of hundred pages watching Morse being alternately gracious and grouchy, without any high stakes. Plus, it's got me ready to reevaluate that Tey novel. Huge fun, and gladly recommended.

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