Colin Dexter Way Through the Woods


Colin Dexter is the Oxford don of classic crime. Wonderfully entertaining his Morse and Lewis characters are national treasures. Morse is for many critics an iconic detective hero worthy to rank alongside Holmes, Marple and Poirot. But here Jonathan Gash places Margery Allingham as Dexter’s precursor.

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Colin Dexter was discovered by the collecting fraternity a few years after the long running Morse television series began in 1987. His first two books, nice fine first editions, were rarely priced at more than £60. The main reason for this was that detective fiction was a specialism and dealers of choice collectibles stocked only literary fiction, unless of course, their was a demand. After the initial burst energy of a book a year for three years, the pace slackened to a book every other year or every third year. Dexter wrote for fun not for profit. Following the acclaimed series with John Thaw the author of the books was sought out for speaking engagements. It is said that he attended Buckingham Palace to read the Morse books to no less than Her Majesty. He was sought out by a pop music agent to give a presentation on Morse and his writing to a packed theatre. These feats compare in magnitude to the large literary figures of yesteryear such a Oscar Wilde.

The Way Through the Woods (1992)is regarded as one of the best Morse novels (cf. The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction by Barry Forshaw). Morse is on a break at the small seaside resort of Lyme Regis, Dorset when he finds himself caught up in a murder mystery when a body turns up in the woods. He returns to Oxford and several apparently unrelated plots strands come into play. It is the clever pacing and the unconventional style with references to literature and “Englishness” that are for me the most enjoyable aspects of a fulfilling book.

The author of the Appreciation, Jonathan Gash (of the memorable Lovejoy series) has been a fan of Dexter they toured Germany together many years ago. Gash loves to discuss the classic British detective story and to compare the skill and grace of Colin Dexter’s work with past masters. It was published as a signed limited edition of 150 copies and rapidly sold out.  Two copies were found on a recent stock check.

5.00 out of 5

2 reviews for Colin Dexter Way Through the Woods

  1. 5 out of 5

    Rating by Jonathan Gash on May 17, 2012 :

    An extract from the Appreciation by Jonathan Gash

    “Writing crime novels and meeting crime novelists kills the desire to read crime novels, Desmond Bagley once remarked. For me, it was actually an incident that occurred when first meeting Colin Dexter that set me reading this author and searching out his new books as they appeared. Invited to a British Council literary function in Germany, I floundered through my reading and was followed somewhat painstakingly by an intoned translation. Then Colin Dexter rose, and read his piece in perfect German, to the delight of the Cologne audience. Oddly, a sense of his book’s eloquent wit and even a serious merriment came through, though I know nothing of the language. I decided to read him, and have done so since with enjoyment. This was before the famous television series involving Inspector Morse began. I immediately discovered interesting problems with the best crime plotter we’ve got. To begin with, there was the critics’ unfailing appreciations, wholesale agreement about Dexter’s writing skills; the fulsome praise is a constant feature of reviews, and tends to raise resistance and doubt in equal measure until one finds that reading the new Morse mystery gives the same pleasure as always. And there are the well-known Dexter features: the quotations introducing each chapter, the remarkable variations in chapter length, the seeming pedantry that for a moment threatens to interrupt the flow yet encourages it onward, the bravura of a risky exhortation or a startling vocative, the astonishing value that accrues from the sudden but justified insertion of a poem into the text, the reassuring presence of a waterways map or reproduction of an old Association’s table of outdated life assurance premiums, presented in a style as easy as it is unselfconscious. All add to the awareness of grace in the telling of a tale, forcing one to conclude that here is a true novelist, writing with the self-delight that passion brings and which surely is the hallmark of all art. . .”

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rating by Kirkus Reviews on May 17, 2012 :

    Kirkus review of The Way Through the Woods

    “Vacationing Chief Inspector Morse’s eye is caught by a Times story about an anonymous poem evidently referring to the year-old disappearance of Swedish student Karin Eriksson. A lively, densely allusive correspondence analyzing hints in the poem eventually takes Morse (The Jewel That Was Ours, 1992, etc.) to the Oxford town of Wytham, where a body is indeed discovered. But then the real surprises in this captivating tale begin, as the evidence of the corpse, a telltale roll of film found nearby, and the ring of amateur pornographers implicated in the murder obstinately refuse to confirm Morse’s most elementary assumptions. Honest detection, illicit sex, puns and anagrams galore, Morse’s trademark drinking and dour byplay with colleagues and suspects, plus a plot as agile as Dexter’s best–in short, everything you could possibly want in an English detective story. Bolt the door and enjoy”.

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