If you are a true crime fiction aficionado, then Colin Dexter must be one of your beloved authors. Although he is most famously known for his Inspector Morse series of novels, he has written a few novellas and short stories as well.
Colin Dexter is a prime example of the quote – “It is never too late to start something new.” He began writing his first novel in 1972 and went on to become one of the most famous British crime fiction writers. In fact, the TV adaptation of his Inspector Morse series of novels ran for twelve seasons, spanning over a period of fourteen years!
In this article, we will not only cover his most popular novels, the Inspector Morse series, but also discover more about his inspirational life and career.
About Colin Dexter’s Early Life
Born as Norman Colin Dexter was in Stamford, Lincolnshire, England, on 29 September 1930 to Alfred and Dorothy Dexter. He had two siblings, a brother, and a sister. His brother, John, was a fellow classicist and he taught Classics at The King’s School, Peterborough. His father, Alfred Dexter, ran a small garage and taxi company from his premises in Scotgate, Stamford.
Colin received his primary education from St. John’s Infants School and Bluecoat Junior School. From there, he gained a scholarship to Stamford School, which was a boy’s public school. At Stamford, one of his contemporaries was the England international cricket captain and England international rugby player Michael John Knight Smith, better known as M.J.K Smith or Mike Smith.
After leaving school, Colin went on to complete his national service with the Royal Corps of Signals and then read Classics at Christ’s College, Cambridge. He graduated from Christ’s College in 1953 and received his master’s degree in 1958.
In 1954, he started his teaching career in the East Midlands, where he became the assistant Classics master at Wyggeston School, Leicester. At Leicester, he also worked with the Christian Union School society. Surprisingly, that did not reflect his religious views as he later stated in an interview in 2000, that he shared identical views on politics and religion as his fictitious character Inspector Morse, who was portrayed as an atheist.
Colin Dexter got married in 1956 to Dorothy Cooper, with whom he had a daughter, Sally, and a son named Jeremy. Following his marriage, in 1957, he briefly worked at Loughborough Grammar School as a Classics teacher, before graduating to senior Classics teacher at Corby Grammar School, Northamptonshire, in 1959.
However, in 1966, he was forced to retire from Corby Grammar School due to the onset of deafness, a condition that was hereditary to some degree as his grandparents and father all suffered from it. Following this discovery, he knew he would have to change careers, so he took up the post of senior assistant secretary at the University Board of Oxford, where he was responsible for marking GCSE exam papers. He held this position for over twenty years before finally hanging up his red pen in 1988.
About the Inspector Morse Novels
Although Dexter wrote a few textbooks during his teaching days, it was in 1972, that he began his illustrious writing career. He started writing his first novel during a family holiday. In 1975, he published his first novel, Last Bus to Woodstock, which was also the first in the series of thirteen Inspector Morse novels.
For a period spanning almost twenty-five years, he wrote a series of thirteen Inspector Morse Novels, the last of which, The Remorseful Day, was published in 1999.
In the novels, Morse is portrayed as a quintessential white, middle-class English man, with a set of prejudices and assumptions to match. He solved the cases with his assistant Lewis, who is named after another rival clue-writer Mrs. B. Lewis. The spinoff TV show, Inspector Lewis, revolves around Morse’s assistant.
Inspector Morse is an extremely intelligent character. He is terribly fond of crossword puzzles and genuinely dislikes spelling and grammatical errors. In fact, he is quite the “Grammar Nazi” as he would manage to point out at least one mistake in every personal or private document that he received. He also claims that his approach to crime-solving is deductive and he uses his immense intuition and photographic memory to get to the killer.
The series is set in the historical university city of Oxford. The author manages to blend in the stunning architecture and constant sense of history that abounds in the city, to the point that they are co-stars of the show along with the elegant character of Morse. The surroundings, atmosphere and the detective are so beautifully brought together that for many of us, Morse is not the same without the city of Oxford, just as the city of Oxford is not the same without Morse.
TV, DVD and beyond
His Inspector Morse novels were so popular that it spawned a world renowned TV show, starring John Thaw in the lead role for every episode, which ran for twelve seasons.
Here, enjoy a scene from an episode of this epic series.
In fact, it did not just end there; after the Inspector Morse TV show came to an end in 2000, a sequel named Inspector Lewis, starring Kevin Whately and Laurence Fox began in 2006, and it aired until 2015. Following Inspector Lewis, a prequel show, Endeavour was released in 2012, and to date has been running for four seasons; the fifth season of Endeavour is due for release in 2018. All of the shows have well received by the TV audience and hold an impressive rating of 8.0 and above in IMDb.
Awards and Honors
Norman Colin Dexter will go down as one of the most decorated British crime fiction writers of all time. He has received several Crime Writers’ Association awards, which included two Silver Daggers for Service of All Dead in 1979 and The Dead of Jericho in 1981.
He also received two Gold Daggers for The Wench is Dead in 1989 and The Way Through the Woods in 1992. Dexter then went on to receive the coveted Cartier Diamond Dagger for lifetime achievement in 1997.
In 1980, he was elected a member of the by-invitation-only Detection Club. He was also awarded the Macavity Award in 1996, for his short story, Evans Tries an O-Level. Then in 2000, Dexter was honored with being appointed as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to literature.
In 2001 he was awarded the Freedom of the City of Oxford, and in 2005, Dexter became a Fellow by Special Election of St Cross College, Oxford. Finally, in September 2011, the University of Lincoln awarded Dexter an honorary Doctor of Letters degree.
The final days
On 21 March 2017, Norman Colin Dexter peacefully passed away at the age of 86 in his home at Oxford. In the hearts of crime fiction aficionados, he will continue to live forever through his epic Inspector Morse novels and equally thrilling TV shows.