Friday, 2 April 2010

Last Bus to Woodstock by Colin Dexter

I was 11 years old when this first Inspector Morse novel came out and I remember the follow TV series being very good and very popular. It came as a surprise to me then to discover how dated the novel seems today in particular in its attitudes to women and sexuality. The most jarring aspect to a modern reader is a pub conversation where a number of male academics express the belief that it is very unlikely a woman could be raped "against her will". This view is even re-iterated by Morse himself in deducing that the murder victim probably wasn't raped. Less offensive but equally anachronistic is the presence in the novel of a "sex maniac" character who makes weekly trips to an illicit  pornography dealer and papers his bedroom in dirty postcards. Once you accept that this is a novel from a different age the plot itself is clever enough - a young lady of dubious virtue is found murdered in the grounds of a pub and all of the key witnesses have their own reasons for not telling the truth. There are enough red herrings to hinder you from guessing the true identity of the murderer until the end. Just as in the TV series Morse's sidekick Lewis is a far more sympathetic character than the heavy drinking  Morse himself. You already begin to see how the interplay between the two men would become the bedrock of the successful book and TV spin offs.

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