Pan| February 2011| 289 pages| e-book| 5*
From the Back Cover
Inspector Morse isn’t sure what to make of the truncated body found dumped in the Oxford Canal, but he suspects it may be all that’s left of an elderly Oxford don last seen boarding the London train several days before. Whatever the truth, the inspector knows it won’t be simple — it never is. As he retraces Professor Browne-Smith’s route through a London netherworld of topless bars and fancy bordellos, his forebodings are fulfilled. The evidence mounts; so do the bodies. So Morse downs another pint, unleashes his pit bull instincts, and solves a mystery that defies all logic.
The Riddle of the Third Mile is Colin Dexter’s 6th book in his Inspector Morse series, first published in 1983. I remember watching the TV adaptation based on this book, The Last Enemy, but, as with most TV adaptations, it has several changes from the original. Like all of Dexter’s books this is a most complicated mystery, one of the ‘puzzle’ types. Dexter, himself, constructed crossword puzzles and made Morse a crossword aficionado. I agree with Sergeant Lewis when he asks Morse: ‘Aren’t you making it all a bit too complicated?‘ (page 145). I enjoyed trying to follow all the clues that Dexter planted in the mystery, although I had little idea about most of it. But I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The identity of the dismembered and headless corpse could have been that of Morse’s his old classics tutor, Browne-Smith or Browne-Smith’s hated rival, Westerby, or even one of the Gilbert twins who both harboured a grudge against Browne-Smith dating back to the Second World War. Or one of the twins could have been the murderer. Morse eventually works it out, by various means, including considering ‘the most improbable notions, in the sure certainty that by the law of averages some of them stood a more reasonable chance of being near to the truth than others.’ ( page 145) He’s also helped by his intuition, when a passage of scripture springs to his mind about forgiving one’s enemies: ‘ And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain (Matthew 14.1)’ which he checks in a Gideon Bible, and letting his mind ponder this he remembers a sermon he had heard on the ‘Religion of the Second Mile’:
And it was with the forty-watt bulb shedding its feeble light over the Gideon Bible that Morse smiled to himself in unspeakable joy, like one who has travelled on a longer journey still – that third and final mile …
At last he knew the truth. (page 220)
I can’t say I was also enlightened, and so I just had to read on to find out what Morse had managed to deduce.
Along with the mystery details of Morse’s earlier life when he was a student at St John’s College, Oxford are revealed. He had failed the classics degree, known as ‘Greats’, after his love affair with a postgraduate student at St Hilda’s, Wendy Spencer, came to an end. It had had a disastrous effect on his academic work.
… he departed from Oxford, a withdrawn and silent young man, bitterly belittled, yet not completely broken in spirit. It had been his sadly disappointed old father, a month or so before his death, who suggested that his only son might find a niche somewhere in the police force. (page 61)
I’ve now read 9 of the 13 Morse books:
1. Last Bus to Woodstock (1975) – read in October 2020 not reviewed
2. Last Seen Wearing (1976)
3. The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn (1977)
4. Service of All the Dead (1979)
5. The Dead of Jericho (1981)
6. The Riddle of the Third Mile (1983)
7. The Secret of Annexe 3 (1986)
8. The Wench Is Dead (1989)
9. The Jewel That Was Ours (1991)
10. The Way Through the Woods (1992)
11. The Daughters of Cain (1994)
12. Death Is Now My Neighbour (1996)
13. The Remorseful Day (1999)
Inspector Morse: A Mysterious Profile by Colin Dexter is also available, published as one of the Mysterious Profiles series of 26 books.
The international-bestselling author answers readers’ questions and discusses the origins of the Oxford inspector with a penchant for classical music.
In 1975, Inspector Morse debuted, working to solve the case of a murdered hitchhiker in Colin Dexter’s Last Bus to Woodstock. The book led to a multimillion-bestselling mystery series and a television show that spawned a spinoff and a prequel. But how did the beloved DCI from Oxford come to be exactly?
In this quick read, Colin Dexter addresses some of the many questions posed to him by his readers. He reveals what motived him to break into crime writing and which authors and novels influenced him. He discusses Morse’s many traits and inner workings, as well as how he got his first Morse novel published. He also shares how he maintains a discipline with writing, how he deals with critics, and what it’s like to transform a series of novels into a television series.
One thought on “The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter”
Dexter certainly did create some interesting puzzles, didn’t he, Margaret? And as you say, all the clues are there, but sometimes it’s better to just go along and let the story evolve. I also like the way Dexter’s characters are developed in subtle ways. Glad you enjoyed this one.
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