I have been a fan of the TV shows Endeavour and Lewis for some years, but for some reason have never seen-or read-an Inspector Morse mystery. As a mystery, Colin Dexter’s Service of All the Dead was intriguing, and I particularly liked the way the characters of Morse and Lewis were brought across. Two deaths, both deceased men are from the same Oxford church. One murdered, one apparent suicide. Chance leads to renowned police officer Inspector Morse taking another look at the original police findings, and trying to shed some new light on the case.
Harry Josephs is stabbed in the back with the vicar’s letter opener. Shortly afterwards, the vicar, Reverend Lionel Lawson, jumps off the church tower, seemingly a clear cut case of a murderer being filled with remorse. But Josephs additionally had been drugged with morphine, why was he effectively killed twice? To the majority of the force, however, it is a clear cut case of a murderer overcome by regret. Morse has to attempt to unravel the facts about the true murderer…
Service of all the Dead was gripping. I was able to clearly visualise what was going on thanks to the imagery Dexter provides the reader with, it was one of those books that, as you read it, you can see a TV episode replicating word for word what’s happening-it is both an excellent read and assists the imagination in forming the happenings in the mind’s eye. Indeed, it was the third Inspector Morse TV episode.
The method of death is simply ingenious, but leaves the reader (well, me at least) wondering why they hadn’t considered it before-was it the improbability of such a happening? Something so simple that leads to that moment of comprehension, there is no longer a niggling voice at the back of the mind asking how it was done.
The final section (‘The Book of Revelation’) has the solution proffered-but I was then left mightily confused when another solution was given shortly afterwards. Morse knows how it was done, why does he confuse the reader?
‘The Book of Revelation’ was the final section, the others being ‘The First Book of Chronicles’, ‘The Second Book of Chronicles’, and ‘The Book of Ruth’ in that order. I felt that that was a nice touch from Dexter, a religious theme being bought into a story centred around a church.
I have no problem with the primary setting, nor the fact that Dexter uses a church as a scene of revelation to Morse-but I have got a problem with the fact that the layout of the church was referred to so much, this was the one section of the book that I found impossible to visualise, I had absolutely no mental plan of the building at all-which impacted on my understanding and prediction of the story.
Limply the Reverend Lionel Lawson shook the last smoothly gloved hand, the slim hand of Mrs Emily Walsh-Atkins, and he knew that the pews in the old church behind him were now empty.”
Character development-Morse seems to have an astounding natural aptitude for guesswork which helps the story along nicely, the characters were fairly well developed but not quite realistic enough for me-★★★½
Readability-the area in which Dexter excels, the book is expertly crafted and hooks the reader from page one despite a somewhat uneventful start-★★★★★
Overall-very readable but I had some major quibbles, personally I prefer the TV show Endeavour to Dexter’s novels (at least, I prefer Endeavour to Service of all the Dead), based on the TV shows I was expecting something great, perhaps I set the bar too high but this was average with a plot that I doubt could or would happen in reality-★★★½ (70)
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