COLIN DEXTER – The Wench Is Dead. St. Martin’s Press, US, hardcover, 1990; Bantam, US, paperback, 1991. First published in the UK: Macmillan, hardcover, 1989. Reprinted many times since. TV Film:   ITV/PBS; Season 11, Episode 1 of Inspector Morse in the UK. (11 November 1998), with John Thaw as Chief Inspector Morse.

COLIN DEXTER The Wench Is Dead

   Colin Dexter borrows the premise of one of the finest Mystery novels ever, despite what some may think, Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, and has Inspector Morse try his hand at investigating a historical crime from his hospital bed.

   This crime, however, isn’t nearly as famous as the Richard III murders, and judging by the book’s Dedication, the names of people involved in the case were changed and some of the circumstances fictionalized.

   Morse, in Hospital (as they say over there) with ulcers, is given a short Vanity Press tome by the widow of its author, who was Morse’s short-lived roommate. Bored nearly to death himself, Morse reads what seems to be a straightforward account of an 1859 murder; slowly, over several days, absorbing all the facts of a case in which three Oxford canal boat crewmen were convicted of a passenger’s murder, Morse becomes convinced that there was something wrong about the case, and with the aid of Sgt. Lewis and the daughter of another patient, comes up with his own solution.

   I sampled a couple of Morse novels several years ago, well before he became Hot Stuff on Mystery!, and I must admit they didn’t make much impression on me. I picked this one up for its resemblance to the Tey classic, and because the nice lady running the Library Used Book Sale kept insisting I could squeeze a few more books in my bag for the “Buck a Bagful” sale.

   All I can say is I enjoyed it much more than I had expected.