An old friend comes to Mystery Monday today: Inspector Morse, Colin Dexter‘s famous — or is that infamous — Chief Inspector from Oxford CID in a collection of eleven short stories. It came to my notice last week as another blogger was reviewing it and I immediately thought it would be perfect for this week’s featured mystery. It is particularly timely, too, since one of the stories is a Christmas story.
Each of the stories begins with a famous and familiar quotation, is a very quick, enjoyable read, and displays a series of twists demonstrating the quick wit of a criminal or the inscrutable logic of Morse. Morse’s Greatest Mystery begins with a quote from A Christmas Carol because this investigation is one where Detective Sergeant Lewis is feeling that Morse is giving a good impression of Scrooge. When he picks him up early one Tuesday morning before Christmas, Morse is arguing on the phone with the bank manager, quibbling over a minor charge. Listening to his boss’s ill tempter, Lewis is moved to comment that Morse “sound[s] more like Scrooge every minute”.
Lewis was starting to become irritated with Morse’s cheapness, the expectation that he would have to treat Morse to a pint or two, and the fact that, since Morse’s old Jag was in the shop again, Lewis would have to “ferry him around” all day. Once in the car, Lewis brought Morse up-to-date on the events of the previous day at the George, a pub run by Mrs. Michaels and her husband. It seemed that the patrons had been collecting for the Littlemore Charity for Mentally Handicapped Children as a Christmas gesture and had raised £400. Rather than presenting a “phonily magnified cheque”, Mrs. Michaels had opted for genuine notes and had brought them home from the bank in a “long white envelope tucked into her shopping bag along with her morning’s purchases”. Hearing the phone as she entered the pub, she “had dumped her bag on the counter and rushed to answer it”. When she retrieved it, the envelope was missing.
Both Lewis and Morse knew there was next to no possibility that the money could be retrieved but they went through the motions when they arrived at the George, as luck would have it, just at opening time. All the patrons from the day before were present and after a few “perfunctory” interviews which Lewis thought “sadly unsatisfactory”, Morse appeared to have been struck with the answer:
Something dramatic had just happened to Morse, Lewis could see that: as if the light had suddenly shined upon a man that hitherto had sat in darkness. He (Morse) now asked — amazingly! — whether by any chance the good lady possessed a pair of bright green, high-heeled leather shoes; and when she replied that, yes, she did, Morse smiled serenely, as though he had solved the secret of the universe, and promptly summoned into the lounge bar not only the three he’d just interviewed but all those now in the George who had been drinking there the previous morning.
Morse addressed the gathering with confidence: he knew the identity of the culprit and was certain that “Because at this Christmas time that person no longer had the power to resist his better self“, and that he expected the money to be “turned in to the Thames Valley Police HQ within the next twenty-four hours“.
Lewis is totally stymied and never does figure out how Morse could be so positive when there were really no clues at all other than the bright green shoes — which he couldn’t see fit into the case at all. I don’t want to spoil it for you. One clue: Morse isn’t really a Scrooge! A delightful collection of short stories from that master of detection, Colin Dexter. * * * * *
It’s very easy to participate in my Mystery Monday meme. Just post a review of your latest mystery read on your own site, and then a comment on my post with a link to yours. Drag or copy my meme logo and add it to your post along with these few rules. Simplicity itself! I look forward to learning about more great mysteries to add to my ever-growing list of To Be Read.