Written by Colin Dexter
Crown Publishers, Inc., 1992; 296 pp.
The Way Through the Woods is the tenth book in Colin Dexter's wonderful Chief Inspector Morse mystery series. It was, quite fittingly, the winner of the Gold Dagger Award for Best Crime Novel of the Year in 1992. As always, the book centers around the cranky but brilliant Chief Inspector and his long-suffering (but adoring) partner Sergeant Lewis. With settings in Oxfordshire and Dorset, and of course many pubs and taverns in both areas, this one has the oddly-matched duo investigating a "cold case" that had been abandoned by the detectives originally on the job - a case involving the disappearance of a young Swedish woman on holiday in England.
When lovely tourist Karin Eriksson disappeared after visiting Oxford on a summer day just one year ago, Morse insisted that the girl had been murdered. But with no body found, and very little evidence to prove his theory, the case was ultimately recorded as a missing persons incident and allowed to fade away, unsolved. But twelve months later, while Morse is on a rare holiday trip to Lyme Regis, a cryptic anonymous letter appears in the London Times, containing a strange poem that may or may not be a key to what actually happened to the missing girl. Of course, being a consummate puzzle solver, Morse is able to decode the poem and use it to have the case reopened. He and Lewis revisit all the witnesses and go over all the old territory. And in a very unusual turn of events, they're aided in their investigations by letters sent to the newspaper by private citizens with their own ideas about what clues the poem might contain. But with all the twists and turns along the way, can we even depend on those letters and letter-writers to be what they claim?
As usual, Dexter includes plenty of suspects for Morse to wade through. And also as usual, Morse manages to "solve" the case several times before the final conclusion is reached. The dust jacket says the novel "displays all of Dexter's gifts for matching the taut plotting of classic British mystery with rich characterization and witty prose"; and that's exactly true. One of the nicest things about the Morse books is the humor; some of it very dark, of course. The book also includes a few character changes, with the exit of one old friend, and the introduction of a new "regular."
This was the first Morse mystery I've read in many years, and I really enjoyed it. I love Morse, both the print and the film versions; and of all the books I've read in the series, I think this was the best - although I usually say that about each one I read. Well, this was definitely the best one until I read the next!
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