This was the third book in the Inspector Morse series, and is perhaps my favourite of them all (well, it is either this one or Service of All the Dead, I always struggle a bit between the two). Not only is the story very clever but it is also notable because in creating it, Colin Dexter seems to have drawn quite heavily on his own life. And it also made for a superb piece of TV drama when it was adapted by Julian Mitchell for the Inspector Morse series.

I submit this review for Bev’s 2017 Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt; Rich’s Crime of the Century meme;  Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme hosted by Todd Mason over at Sweet Freedom.

“Lovely,” said Morse, wondering what Darjeeling was.

The eponymous Quinn works for the Oxford Foreign Examinations Syndicate and Morse and Lewis are called in to investigate his apparent suicide. They quickly learn that Quinn was generally liked, fairly new to the job, coped well with his deafness and suspected that someone was selling exam results to the wealthy parents of overseas students. The pool of suspects is quickly narrowed down to Quinn’s main colleagues at the Syndicate, including the boss Dr Bartlett, Monica Height and Donald Martin (who are secretly having an affair), Philip Ogleby (who is dying of a rare blood disease), Christopher Roope (who went against Bartlett and supported Quinn’s appointment to replace George Bland, who is leaving to represent the syndicate in the Sheikhdom of Al-jamara) and the Dean of Lonsdale College.

Lewis studied the letter once more and his eyes gradually widened. “You’re a clever old bugger, sir”
“Sometimes, perhaps,” conceded Morse.

A second murder follows and a visit to a cinema showing the soft core porn ‘The Nymphomaniac’ seems to loom large in establishing alibis. Morse hopes it isn’t Monica, who he falls for but the case is a very complicated one as it becomes clear that the time of death is perhaps not what everyone thought and that Quinn may have been mistaken about who was selling the results.

The Inspector Morse Mysteries

  1. Last Bus to Woodstock (1975)
  2. Last Seen Wearing (1976)
  3. The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn (1977)
  4. Service of All the Dead (1979)
  5. The Dead of Jericho (1981)
  6. The Riddle of the Third Mile (1983)
  7. The Secret of Annexe 3 (1986)
  8. The Wench is Dead (1989)
  9. The Jewel That Was Ours (1991)
  10. The Way Through the Woods (1992)
  11. Morse’s Greatest Mystery and Other Stories (1993 / 94)
  12. The Daughters of Cain (1994)
  13. Death is Now My Neighbour (1996)
  14. The Remorseful Day (1999)

Dexter himself was deaf, was an inveterate crossword solver and setter and worked for an examination board much like the one in this novel, which may just give this cunningly plotted book the edge among his many fine whodunits. And it worked a treat when filmed for television too, which used all the plot and characters but came up with several neat refinements and added lots of clever new dialogue too. For instance, the film that many of the characters go to watch at the cinema (but are too embarrassed to admit to) becomes the much more upmarket movie, Last Tango in Paris, and which leads to this very amusing exchange that trades on its most notorious scene but also makes a clever point about the difference between sex and porn:

Morse: [in front of a cinema showing The Last Tango In Paris] “You ever seen this?”
Lewis: “No!”
Morse: “Me neither. My doctor says I should lose some weight, stop eating butter, start eating, uh, polyunsaturates, whatever they are. Not quite the same though, is it, Lewis?”

The playwright, novelist and screenwriter Julian Mitchell does a superb job in adapting Dexter’s novel, condensing the story but keeping all its essence and adding several clever touches of his own, including making Ogleby the crossword setter Daedalus, played superbly by Michael Gough, and bringing his usual epigrammatic skills to the dialogue. Barbara Flynn is also especially good as Monica, while Roger Lloyd-Pack’s fine portrayal as the dour Donald Martin might genuinely surprise viewers who only knew his work as Trigger in the sitcom, Only Fools and Horses. And the scene at the end, when Morse realises he has made a colossal blunder in his deductions, is wonderfully funny. All in all, a class act and one of the best episodes of the show, taken from one of the best novels Dexter ever wrote.

Inspector Morse / The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn (1987)
Director: Brian Gilbert
Producer: Kenny McBain
Screenplay: Julian Mitchell
Cinematography: Clive Tickner
Art Direction: David McHenry
Music: Barrington Pheloung
Cast: John Thaw, Kevin Whately, Barbara Flynn, Michael Gough, Roger Lloyd-Pack, Clive Swift, Frederick Treves, Elspet Gray

For a detailed rundown on the book and the TV version, its various references, the cast, and its location, you must visit Chris Sullivan’s fine website, Morse, Lewis and Endeavour.

I submit this reviews for Bev’s Silver Age Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt in the ‘bottle/glass’ category:


***** (5 fedora tips out of 5)

This entry was posted in 2017 Silver Age Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt, Colin Dexter, Crime of the Century, England, Five Star review, Inspector Morse, Oxford, Tuesday's Overlooked Film. Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to THE SILENT WORLD OF NICHOLAS QUINN (1977) by Colin Dexter

  1. Colin says:

    Ive seen part of (actually, maybe most of) the TV adaptation of this and thought it looked well done. Not read the book though – I still have a full set of the series boxed and shrink-wrapped and waiting impatiently for me to dig in…

  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    This is one of my faves of Dexter’s novels, too, Sergio. I really do like the clever exchanges (both in the novel and in the adaptation). It’s also a solid mystery, with a solid explanation. I do like the various characters and their interactions, too. It’s also one of those that has a certain ‘crackle’ to it that sets it apart from the rest. Very scientific, eh? 😉

  3. Paula Carr says:

    I haven’t read any of his books, but I should definitely put them on my list. I loved the Inspector Morse TV series, as well as the Inspector Lewis sequels, but I’m especially enjoying the Endeavor series about the young Morse. Were these based on books, too? Or were they a type of fan fic???

  4. TomCat says:

    I’ve fond memories of watching the TV-series, which I watched when my interest in crime-fiction had just been awakened, but never really got into the books. However, I have an entire row of them sitting on my shelf. So might dip into them one of days. Read some good things about The Secret of Annexe 3.

    Thanks for the review and reminder, Sergio.

  5. Jose Ignacio says:

    Nice review as always Sergio. I’m planning to read Service of All the Dead soon. By the way the complete TV episode of this one is available at You Tube.

  6. Santosh Iyer says:

    I have read the book and also seen the TV film. Both are very good and I enjoyed them.
    The film is more or less a faithful adaptation of the book with minor changes and elimination of inessential issues in the film.
    There are some interesting titbits in the book about Morse which I would like to mention:
    When searching Quinn’s room, Morse finds a recent copy of Playboy. Lewis catches him “scanning a succession of naked breasts and crotches.” Morse guiltily puts the magazine back.
    The film The Nymphomaniac stars Inga Nielsson with a 40-inch bosom. After the case is over, Morse and Lewis go to view the film. When the camera moves in on Inga’s breasts, Morse whispers,”Christ, look at those !”

  7. MarinaSofia says:

    One of my favourite Morse novels and TV adaptations too.

  8. tracybham says:

    Of the early books I have read in this series, this was my favorite. So I probably should continue reading them. I am curious, is there any reason to read them in order?

  9. Santosh Iyer says:

    I find that in several of the TV episodes including this, Colin Dexter himself appears briefly.
    Here he appears in the initial cocktail party scene:

  10. I love the way you made this one fit so many categories in the memes you are taking part in! It’s a long time since I read this one – it was before the TV series even existed – and you have tempted me to pick it up again.

    • Yay, job done Moira 😉

      • now reading it on Kindle, and important clue of the coded letter, where you read the last word of the lines to get message: well, completely lost because of Kindle formatting. Honestly, publishers! Otherwise – what a world it is showing, 1977 with pub opening hours, porno cinema, and some very doubtful attitudes to women. A tremendously authentic immersion in the un-regretted past. And a young male pc sent off to interview a 16 year old girl, alone, to get key info to entrap her mother. It is the perfect Bank Holiday Monday reading.

  11. Pingback: 1977 books | Past Offences: Classic crime, thrillers and mystery book reviews

  12. Pingback: THE RIDDLE OF THE THIRD MILE (1983) by Colin Dexter | Tipping My Fedora

  13. Pingback: 2017 Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Wrap-up | Tipping My Fedora

  14. Aria Saxena says:


  15. danielqdc says:

    Why couldn’t Max determine the time of death from the autopsy? As the medical examiner, he could have established right away that Quinn had been dead for days.

    • I can’t remember if it’s a question of days but a) probably couldn’t get an autopsy so immediately b) it was 50 years ago so results maybe not so precise and c) would ruin Dexter’s plotting 😀

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