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.
“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
- Last Bus to Woodstock (1975)
- Last Seen Wearing (1976)
- The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn (1977)
- Service of All the Dead (1979)
- The Dead of Jericho (1981)
- The Riddle of the Third Mile (1983)
- The Secret of Annexe 3 (1986)
- The Wench is Dead (1989)
- The Jewel That Was Ours (1991)
- The Way Through the Woods (1992)
- Morse’s Greatest Mystery and Other Stories (1993 / 94)
- The Daughters of Cain (1994)
- Death is Now My Neighbour (1996)
- 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?”
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: