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Onyx reviews: The Remorseful Day by Colin Dexter

A recent British review of The Remorseful Day opened with "The secret's out..." and proceeded to give away one of the most important details of the ending of this book. Have no fear, no such revelations will occur in this review. However, there is a very good reason why the novel has the words "The Final Inspector Morse Novel" printed conspicuously at the top of the dust jacket.

Inspector Morse is not a well man. The novel opens with a typical bantering scene between the acerbic but lovable Inspector and the nurse who has been taking care of him during a stay in the hospital. Morse, who has been abusing his body with liquid lunches and dinners for longer than anyone can remember, has become diabetic.

The story then jumps forward a year. Chief Superintendent Strange has received anonymous letters which prompt him to reopen a murder investigation. The victim, as fate would have it, was that very same nurse Morse was seen flirting with in the prolog. As it turns out, Yvonne Harrison was known as more than a flirt, much to the consternation of her husband and two adult children.

Morse is reluctant to get involved in this case, so most of the work falls to his long-suffering friend, Sergeant Lewis. Lewis appears to have taken some self-confidence lessons and perhaps an IQ refresher course, as he is much more on the ball in this novel than ever before. Readers unfamiliar with previous Morse novels will not notice anything out of the ordinary, but the sudden revamping of Lewis, from a diffident, slow-witted, methodical flatfoot into a perceptive and literate foil for Morse is a little hard to swallow.

Morse, of course, is Morse. Or rather, he is John Thaw, the actor who has portrayed the inspector in numerous adaptations of Dexter's novels. In recent novels, Dexter has converted his version of Morse into one which more closely resembles the actor who has popularized the character. Since Dexter has been closely involved in the screen adaptations, it is not a surprising transition, but one wonders whether an author should change the physical attributes of his main character just to have him conform more to the screen version.

The mystery is one of Dexter's typical convoluted schemes which is, for all intents and purposes, completely impossible to work out until Morse and Lewis get everything straight. It never helps matters that Morse generally goes off on a wild goose chase at least once in every novel, absolutely convinced that he has it right, only to be proven wrong. And, occasionally, to be proven right again. Along the way, several more murders occur as the complex plot begins to unravel.

Lewis has serious concerns that Morse's involvement with the deceased may be greater than anyone suspects and it is with a heavy heart and a careful eye to detail that he coaxes and cajoles Morse into a more active part in tracking down the murderer of Nurse Harrison.

Colin Dexter has turned Oxford into the murder capital of England. He is quick to tell that he has now murdered nearly 80 people in the city in the last 15 years, including four heads of colleges. It may be that he has decided to put an end to his reign of terror. Or perhaps he has just decided to give Chief Inspector Morse a much-needed break and give Inspector Lewis his time in the limelight. By the end of The Remorseful Day, Lewis has shown himself to be a worthy successor.

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