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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

Service of all the Dead

Reviewed: December 10, 2002
By: Colin Dexter
Publisher: Pan Books
352 Pages, $8.99

Inspector Morse was supposed to have been on vacation when he wandered into the mess at St. Frideswide’s Anglican Church. By the time he  actually appears in the story we’re six chapters in ourselves and wondering just where this is going. In those six chapters there’s been enough ill will stirred up to make us quite sure that something is going to happen, perhaps to the rector, perhaps to Brenda Josephs, perhaps to a certain Mr. Morris. We’re not sure who’s going to take the long drop, but someone is.

Morse arrives long after someone has. First a tramp dies under mysterious circumstances; then the vicar takes a header off the church tower. None of it really seems to make any sense, and the officer assigned to the case is chasing a trail that is getting colder by the month. Just the sort of scenario where’d you’d expect to find Morse poking around.

Imagine everyone’s surprise when the poking turns up two more bodies and no clues that really help to explain any of it. Curiouser and curiouser.

What tends to happen with Morse is that he goes marching off down some rather fanciful path that appeals to the classicist in him - and is dead wrong. Thanks to the prodding of Sgt. Lewis however, Morse usually manages to take both of them past some obscure lane that neither of them would have seen if they hadn’t been on the path in the first place. And it’s that which gets them to the solution. Unfortunately there was another murder before that could happen.

Also as usual, Morse hasn’t much luck with the ladies. The script here is a little bit different from the t.v. movie of this book, enough that it kept me guessing, but it’s clear from early on that the engaging Miss Ruth Rawlinson is going to be what we call an accessory after the fact in at least one of the murders. Naturally, she and Morse share a mutual attraction. In an interesting narrative development, several of the latter chapters of the book are given to us as her sworn statement at the end of the affair, while another is a court transcript in which Morse clears away the red herrings she drags across her tale.

Good tale. I enjoyed it immensely.

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