THE WENCH IS DEAD by Colin Dexter


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Oxford's pugnacious Inspector Morse here follows the path of Josephine Tey's Alan Grant in The Daughter of Time: While laid up in the hospital (an ulcer exacerbated by gin), he becomes interested in the 1859 drowning of Joanna Franks as she was traveling on the Oxford Canal; enlists the aid of another patient's librarian daughter as researcher; and sends his shrewd young sidekick, Sergeant Lewis, to poke into musty police-files and evidence lockers. Not long after, Morse becomes convinced that Joanna was not murdered and that the barge crew was wrongly accused. His deductions, aided somewhat by illegally smuggled-in drams, hinge on the size of Joanna's feet; her first husband's acting career; and her peculiar insistence on staying on the barge, although she had sworn bitterly about the behavior of the crew. Who, then, drowned, and how and why? Morse's interpretation of the events is cunning, plausible, and persuasive, though the denouement is curiously flat compared to the investigative nit-picking that precedes it. The irascible Morse (more widely known after PBS's Mystery! series), along with his unrepentently unhealthy excesses, makes for droll entertainment, and the Franks case is ideal for his skills: tricky, convoluted, a true puzzle.

Pub Date: April 20th, 1990
Publisher: St. Martin's