I discovered Inspector Morse in a very serendipitous and circuitous manner while watching a pilot episode of Inspector Lewis on Masterpiece Mystery. The lead character, Inspector Lewis’ remarks on the cryptic clues left by his predecessor Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Morse, got me intrigued. I decided to check out the Inspector Morse DVDs at my library the very next day. Fortunately, the Lawrence branch owned all thirty-three episodes and I immediately checked out the first series containing three episodes. Needless to say, after watching the first DVD, I was hooked and became an ardent fan of the series. Every week I would check out five DVDs and would devour them in a fit of gluttony every evening. Sleep deprived, I would vow the next morning not to overindulge and stay up so late. Inevitably, I would fail in my resolve to ration myself to one episode!
What is so wonderful about the Inspector Morse series? A better question is, why should you watch the series? In this time of DVD bounty, when we have a dizzying variety of choices in what to watch, why watch an old show from the years 1987-2000?
Inspector Morse is a classic British mystery series featuring the titular DCI Morse, a flawed and complex character: at times grouchy and impatient, prickly and snobbish, Morse is a perfectionist. He is erudite and cultured, a loner who loves opera, crossword puzzles and cask ale. For all his erudition and prickliness, he is a vulnerable man, especially where women are concerned. Occasionally Morse will win over a woman, but he cannot hold on to her. His life is consumed by his work. Morse's first name is Endeavour, a fact that is kept a secret until the very last episode.
The backdrop of this drama is the picturesque city of Oxford: the Christ Church Cathedral, the Bodleian Library, and Jesus College are all captured in a beautiful golden glow. The length of each episode is close to two hours, which makes the pace of the show leisurely, allowing the audience to get involved in the complexities of the plot. The dynamics between Morse and his bagman Sergeant Lewis is funny but touching and their relationship evolves as the series progresses. And, of course, we do have the dead bodies - this is after all a crime drama - but it never gets gruesome or gory. The plot, at times intricate, is similar to a crossword puzzle with plenty of false clues and Morse is not always adept at solving the mystery until the very end. To complete the picture there is the poignant and haunting theme music which also spells Morse's name in Morse code. Classical music lovers will enjoy the beautiful soundtrack which is an added bonus.
Cited as the "most intelligent cop show ever to hit the small screen... New Morse episodes routinely drew television audiences of 15 million and more in a country of 60 million. Few television series can truthfully be called a phenomenon. Morse can."
(Thornberry, Larry. "Remembering John Thaw and Inspector Morse." The American Spectator. January 20, 2012)
Another evidence of the series' popularity is that young Morse was resurrected with the prequel, Endeavor, which shows us how Morse got started. I was never much of a detective fiction reader but my curiosity was piqued by the Inspector Morse DVDs. Saddened by not having anymore Inspector Morse DVDs to watch, I decided to investigate the books that led to the television series. I found the books just as enjoyable as the television series - suspenseful, literate and very well written. Colin Dexter published his first Inspector Morse mystery, The Last Bus to Woodstock, in 1975. Since that first classic British whodunit, Dexter has written twelve Inspector Morse novels, all of them intricately plotted, full of literary allusions and great fun to read. Each chapter begins with a quote from a book or a poem which I found quite a treat. And, the mysteries are so well-plotted that I could never figure out the identity of the murderer until the author chose to reveal it towards the very end.
Much like Shakespeare's dramas, the show deals with certain fundamental and eternal complexities of the human condition. So do not just take my word for it, instead watch one episode and you will succumb to the timeless appeal of this outstanding show. Both, the television shows and the books do not have to be enjoyed sequentially. They are stand alone and so you do not need to see andor read them in any particular order. But, it is good to start with the first and proceed in a chronological order. Below are the titles of the books as well as the television series and the year they were published and/or released. As a testament to the television shows' popularity, you will notice that while Colin Dexter had written only thirteen Inspector Morse novels, there are thirty three television episodes based on Dexter's original characters!
Last Bus to Woodstock (1975); Last Seen Wearing (1976); The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn (1977); Service of All the Dead (1979); The Dead of Jericho (1981); The Riddle of the Third Mile (1983); The Secret of Annexe 3 (1986); The Wench is Dead (1989); The Jewel That Was Ours (1991); The Way Through the Woods (1992); The Daughters of Cain (1994); Death is Now My Neighbour (1996); The Remorseful Day (1999)
Season one (1977) The Dead of Jericho; The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn; Service of All the Dead
Season Two (1988) The Wolvercote Tongue; Last Seen Wearing; The Settling of the Sun; Last Bus to Woodstock
Season Three (1989) Ghost in the Machine; The Last Enemy; Deceive d by Flight; The Secret of Bay 5B
Season Four (1990) The Infernal Serpent; The Sins of the Fathers; Driven to Distraction;
Season Five (1991) Second Time Around; Fat Chance; Who Killed Harry Field?; Greeks Bearing Gifts; Promised Land
Season Six (1992) Dead on Time; Happy Families; The Death of the Self; Absolute Conviction; Cherubim and Seraphim
Season Seven (1993) Deadly Slumber; The Day of the Devil; Twilight of the Gods
Inspector Morse Specials (1995-2000) The Way Through the Woods; The Daughters of Cain; Death Is Now My Neighbour; The Wench Is Dead; The Remorseful Day