Posted: July 22, 2014 in Book Awards, Edgar Awards, England, Golden Age of detective fiction

51BCw8MGoXL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_The Secret of Annexe 3 published in 1983 is the seventh book in the thirteen book series featuring Inspector Morse  authored by Colin Dexter, a P1050117former Classics teacher.

If you once understand an author’s character, the comprehension of his writing becomes easy. ( Longfellow ) 


Many people are surprised that there are only thirteen novels in the series because Morse [played so superbly by the late John Thaw]and his trusty subordinate Lewis [Kevin Whately] have seemingly been on our TV screens for ever. Thirty three episodes of Morse, were followed after Morse’s and John Thaw’s tragically early deaths by thirty episodes of the popular spin off series Lewis with Kevin Whately joined by Laurence Fox as DS James Hathaway, and later a prequel series Endeavour set in the 1960s with Shaun Evans as the young DC Morse. 

But to me the most surprising and amusing fact about Colin Dexter is that the author, whose detective novels are set in Oxford, and whose detective will be inexorably linked with that city read Classics at Christ’s College, Cambridge. 

Colin Dexter, now 83, has won two Silver Daggers and two Gold Daggers, and a Cartier Diamond Dagger for Lifetime achievement so I won’t impertinently classify my post as a P1050110review. But  I’ll make just a few comments about the book, and the thought that it would probably be a good series to read in order.

I could have subtitled this post epigraphs and episodes, because each of the forty four chapters is introduced by an epigraph. The reader knows he is in the hands of an intelligent writer, who by changing perspective between the various characters is able to give a slightly different twist on the standard police procedural. 

When Thomas Bowman discovers a letter that proves that his wife Margaret has been unfaithful the scene is set for a series of events centering around festivities at the Haworth Hotel, where after  a fancy dress party a body is discovered in Annexe 3. The relationship between Morse and Lewis is definitely the best aspect of the books and it never fails to amuse.

‘ I know the place, Lewis. And so should you! It’s the street where Jude and Sue Fawley lived!

“Should I know them?’

‘In Jude the Obscure, Lewis! And “Aldbrickham” is Hardy’s name for Reading, as you’ll remember.’ ‘

Yes, I’d forgotten for the moment,’ said Lewis.

Most of the elements of a good police procedural are in The Secret of Annexe 3; great detectives, love affairs, lust, jealousy, the teasing problem of whether to dispose of your husband or your lover, disguises, muddled identities and some rather sad lives. While I don’t think this is Dexter’s best work it was a pleasant holiday read in Wiltshire and Oxfordshire, and the epigraphs were a stimulating read. 

Love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave. ( Song of Solomon viii,6 )

[ Photos show the 14th century Great Coxwell Barn in Oxfordshire, somewhere I am sure Inspector Morse would have visited on a rare day off. Epigraphs from the Song of Solomon and Longfellow are in the book along with forty two more.]      

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Norman – I agree that the epigraphs really add to this novel. And it is amusing, ironic, perhaps both, that Dexter was at Cambridge. This is one of those series of novels, too, that have remained consistently strong. As you point out, some are better than others, and this may not be the best of the lot. But as a series I think it’s excellent.

    • Norman Price says:

      Margot- I agree and I think that Colin Dexter was quite lucky in the choice of John Thaw to play Morse on TV. Also the fact there are only13 books encourages new readers to take on the series.

  2. Now you have surprised me! I most certainly did not know that Colin Dexter went to Cambridge…..

  3. Morse was such a brilliant character and I particularly loved this book. As you so rightly say Colin Dexter’s intelligence just shines through.

  4. TracyK says:

    This one sounds good, especially the epigraphs. I have only read the first three or four of these, I need to get busy and read more.

  5. For once it is difficult to say if the books or the TV series are best.
    At any rate, Inspector Morse is a great favourite of mine. I’m not sure I would want him for my boss, however. I loathe feeling stupid 😉

  6. Norman Price says:

    Dorte, John Thaw’s Morse always seemed to me a bit like a school teacher. Of course Colin Dexter was a Classics teacher so I think put a lot of himself into the character. The actors were so good on TV that it did match and possibly exceed the books.

  7. Norman Price says:

    Dorte I forgot to say that you could never be thought stupid. I on the other hand worked for “Andy Dalziel” for 6 months so I know my limitations. 😉

  8. LOL
    I have also tried working for a real psychopath several years ago. He did NOT succeed in breaking me down, but I knew that either I had to find a new job, or I’d end up kicking his sorry a… some day.

    • Hilary Milburn says:

      I’ve just finished rereading this novel and I still can’t work out how the victim’s body got into the room, if, as Morse says, the murderer never set foot in the hotel. Can somebody enlighten me please?

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