Considering I have lived in Oxford for the best part of 20 years, it has taken me an inordinately long time to get around to reading an Inspector Morse mystery. ‘Last Bus to Woodstock’ was given to me as a birthday present by a friend, to help with the 50/50 challenge.
To start with I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to read the book without constant flashing images of John Thaw as Morse and Kevin Whately as Lewis, as per the TV series. But that didn’t happen at all – because the characters I imagined were completely different from Thaw and Whately. My Morse was tougher, sexier, more vibrant – and my Lewis was nowhere near as insipid as his ITV counterpart.
Sylvia and her friend are waiting at the bus stop one night, but decide instead to hitch a ride. Sylvia is later found murdered, in the back yard of the Black Prince pub. Morse and Lewis are assigned to the case and eventually uncover the truth behind the events leading up to the death.
The plot to the murder mystery is intricate and tightly woven. However, I had some severe misgivings about the book. Firstly, I found it extremely frustrating that the clues were not planted throughout the narrative to allow me to work out whodunit. I don’t think I am a particularly dense reader, and the perpetrator turns out to be a character that has paid a fairly minor role in the drama. Morse has the details worked out by the end, and all is revealed in the last 20 pages. But, how frustrating. If there is no way to figure out the mystery, it just makes Inspector Morse (and Colin Dexter) seem like smug, supercilious know-it-alls.
Which brings me to Colin Dexter. Notwithstanding the fact that ‘Last Bus to Woodstock’ was published in 1975 and social attitudes may have changed, Dexter’s portrayals of women are at best disparaging, at worst verging on the misogynistic. Females are either angels or whores, Morse is attracted to a young nurse in uniform and there was an uncomfortable sense that some of the characters felt that young Sylvia may have been ‘asking for it’ based upon what she was wearing.
Colin Dexter’s work has been highly praised but, if this book is indicative of the rest of the series, I am not a fan.
One thing I would add is that this actual book is of a beautiful quality. This edition, published by Pan, has smooth, creamy white pages, super-clear font and a lustrous cover. A joy to hold in my hands.