Dexter, Colin. Last Bus to Woodstock.

NY: St. Martin, 1975.

Colin Dexter’s Chief Inspector Morse is one of the best known coppers in British crime fiction — especially to fans of “Mystery!” on PBS. But while I have no difficulty picturing John Thaw in my mind as I reread this series (though Morse in this first book seems borderline schizo at times), Sgt. Robbie Lewis is another matter. The original book-Lewis actually is older than Morse himself — a career sergeant, more or less.

Still, Lewis is Morse’s foil, his Sancho Panza, asking for explanations on behalf of the reader of his boss’s often erratic thought processes and giving Morse someone to yell at without fear of retribution.

The plot here revolves around two young women trying to hitch-hike the eight miles from Oxford to Woodstock — looking for fun and romantic games, one assumes at the outset, as does Morse. But it’s not that simple — it’s never that simple — and the things each of them is involved in go much deeper than that. And one of them turns up brutally murdered in the car park of an upscale hotel bar. But who was the other girl? Morse would dearly like to find that out, but no one’s talking. Then there’s Bernard Crowther, a college lecturer in English literature, who is having a desultory affair with an unknown woman and hoping his wife, Margaret, doesn’t find out. But, of course, she’s figured that out months ago. And there’s Sue Widdowson, a nurse at the local hospital, and to whom Morse has precipitously lost his heart. The final major player is Jennifer Coleby, housemate of the dead girl and (Morse is quickly convinced) a lying little bitch. She has secrets, too, possibly important ones for the investigation.

The plot is complex and the characters are complex, especially DCI Morse himself. He goes through mood swings, drinks on duty, makes unsound assumptions, ignores procedure and thereby misses useful evidence, and generally behaves in an often unprofessional manner. In real life, Morse wouldn’t last a week on a homicide squad — but this is fiction and if you will suspend your disbelief for a few hours, you will find this a very, very enjoyable mystery.

Published in: on 11 January 2013 at 6:39 am  Leave a Comment  
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