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Tony Grist

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Inspector Morse [Oct. 4th, 2007|10:42 am]
Tony Grist
I never got hooked on the TV series. I watched an episode or two. Gentle, middlebrow stuff, not really for me.

But the book was lying there and I wanted a change from Dickens. 

The first surprise was it's not very well written.  Awkwardness, pomposity, uncertainty of tone, too many adjectives and adverbs-  all the marks of the literary amateur.  I thought this was going to be at the high end of the market and it's not. Morse is a culture-buff, but his reported judgements are banal; Keats is  a  "fine poet. ...You should read him, Lewis",  Wagner is "exquisite", the spires of Oxford are "stately". Dorothy Sayers or P.D. James this ain't.

The second surprise was- hold on a minute- Morse is a porn-fiend. How very unJohn Thaw. He gripes at the News of the World for not being racy enough, he thumbs through a suspect's collection of "supremely pornographic" Scandanavian magazines and barely represses the urge to pocket one, he sends Lewis to do some detecting and passes the afternoon in a strip club, he appraises women in a way that may have been less offensive in 1976 than it is now.

Also he drinks too much. I don't know where the drink driving laws stood in the mid 70s but there's no doubt if he were around today he'd be persistently over the limit.

A bit of a saddo really. I suppose that's the point. He's a crap policeman who gets his results by woolgathering. A not uninteresting conceit.

The Oxford setting goes for less than I imagined it would. A lot of places are name-checked but otherwise this could be anywhere in middle England.

The final test of a whodunnit is whether it foxes you or not. I already have my eye on a suspect- and not the one that's been foregrounded to put us off the scent.   We'll see...
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: momof2girls
2007-10-04 11:47 am (UTC)
I am not that crazy about the Morse TV series - try reading the books, by Colin Dexter. It's a good series.
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[User Picture]From: halfmoon_mollie
2007-10-04 12:20 pm (UTC)

He IS reading the book.

uh...he SAID he was reading the book, that's where this observation comes from...
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[User Picture]From: momof2girls
2007-10-04 12:33 pm (UTC)

Re: He IS reading the book.

Well, excuse me! I skimmed the entry because my kids were talking, so I missed that part.
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[User Picture]From: halfmoon_mollie
2007-10-04 12:37 pm (UTC)

Re: He IS reading the book.

I hope I didn't sound snotty....if I did I apologize.
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[User Picture]From: momof2girls
2007-10-04 12:44 pm (UTC)

Re: He IS reading the book.

That was how I read it . . . apology accepted. Thank you.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-10-04 12:38 pm (UTC)
Ah, but I am. The jury is still out :)
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[User Picture]From: halfmoon_mollie
2007-10-04 12:27 pm (UTC)
I've read some of the books, and I like them. I didn't care for the TV series either, although I did watch it. The thing was, John Thaw's Morse had redeeming characteristics - he did a few 'nice things' for Lewis (although later on, he was a bastard when Lewis got promoted). The Morse of the books is a creep and a phoney.

Morse is a culture-buff, but his reported judgements are banal; Keats is a "fine poet. ...You should read him, Lewis", Wagner is "exquisite", the spires of Oxford are "stately". Dorothy Sayers or P.D. James this ain't.

I kind of think what the author is trying to say here is NOT that Morse is a complicated man and a culture buff, but that he is a PHONEY. We all know people like this, who pretend to love opera but only know of one opera, who pretend to love Beethoven but only know one symphony by name. I can't imagine that fans of the show would have stood for Morse being the leering letch that his character in the books actually was.

That's my opinion, anyway. The Morse books kept me company when I was having a battery of medical tests...
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-10-04 01:15 pm (UTC)
I believe you're right. My view of Morse is skewed by Thaw- who makes him into such a fine gentleman. If it's Dexter's intention to have him be creepy and sad it becomes lot more interesting.

I'm all for flawed detectives. Knights in shining armour- like Lord Peter and Adam Dalgleish- leave me cold. Give me vain, finicky little Poirot any day!
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[User Picture]From: halfmoon_mollie
2007-10-04 01:20 pm (UTC)
love Poirot, love David Suchet as Poirot.

Dalgleish isn't really a knight in shining armour, he's kind of passive aggressive and has committment phobia. And Dorothy L. Sayers was in love with her main character, I think that's why he's so 'perfect'.

In my opinion, anyway.

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-10-04 07:19 pm (UTC)
We own most of the Suchet Poirots. I love everything about the series- not least the wonderful Deco architecture and props.

I read one of the Dalgleish books a long long time ago. Sayers is a good writer; I just wish Wimsey wasn't so wonderful. I think it's wrong for detectives to be love objects. For me detecting and romance just don't mix.
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[User Picture]From: richenda
2007-10-04 02:32 pm (UTC)
>>>>>Morse is a culture-buff, but his reported judgements are banal; Keats is a "fine poet. ...You should read him, Lewis", Wagner is "exquisite", the spires of Oxford are "stately". Dorothy Sayers or P.D. James this ain't.
>>>>I kind of think what the author is trying to say here is NOT that Morse is a complicated man and a culture buff, but that he is a PHONEY

I disagree. I think that the problem is in the writing. I don't know anything about the author, but perhaps it's he who doesn't know enough to be more expansive on the subjects he has the character discussing.
I can't recall any suggestion in the books or the TV series that Morse isn't the Oxford graduate, choir member etc that he claims to be. I love that moment when he finds out that the booby trapped tape is the "worst ever recording - I wouldn't have it in the house".
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[User Picture]From: halfmoon_mollie
2007-10-04 04:45 pm (UTC)
no, I didn't explain myself well. Yes, of course he is the Oxford grad. I just think he says those things to Sgt Lewis because he feels he's supposed to - he feels he is better than Lewis, and does everything he can to rub it in. He likes those things because he THINKS he's supposed to, but he's lukewarm about it. At least that's my opinion.
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[User Picture]From: richenda
2007-10-04 05:13 pm (UTC)
OH I see - apologies for taking you wrongly.
I still think that you are over-estimating the author.
I once counted three "so very"s on one page. An author who can do that is also an author who is likely to give his character banalities to say, whatever the situation might be, but I see that your interpretation is a possible one.
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[User Picture]From: richenda
2007-10-04 02:23 pm (UTC)
I dislike the books very much, especially the "so very"s, but I enjoyed the TV series, until it got too wild and fantastic for my liking. It's quite amusing to watch them go into one college and emerge from another.
I also enjoy spotting people I know in the street scenes.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-10-04 07:23 pm (UTC)
I feel the same way about shows filmed in Manchester- Life on Mars for instance.

I've just finished the book. I have to say I'm in awe of the plotting- the way he sets up a copper bottomed solution, then torpedoes it, then sets up another and torpedoes that in turn.
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[User Picture]From: richenda
2007-10-04 08:15 pm (UTC)
Yes, I don't fault the plotting skill in the novels. In fact, I'd say that's the reason that I don't care for the non-book-based episodes.
Arghh! Is "non-book-based" as bad as "so very"?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-10-05 10:12 am (UTC)
"Non-book-based" is perfectly acceptable. It means what it says- and it even has a kind of a ring to it.
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[User Picture]From: qatsi
2007-10-04 09:27 pm (UTC)
I've read a few of the books years ago; whilst I don't remember them being bad, I do recall thinking they were improved upon by the TV adaptation. (On the other hand, the Colin Dexter stories are definitely much better than the Morse - and Lewis - episodes penned originally for TV by other people). I admit Morse really grew on me by spending time at Oxford - it's fun, if a bit trainspotterish, to comment on all the film cuts where the location changes abruptly.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-10-05 10:01 am (UTC)
Dexter has a unique talent for creating these really, really twisted plots. Getting other people to pretend to him is clearly a mistake.
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[User Picture]From: veronica_milvus
2007-10-04 10:10 pm (UTC)
You know what I love about the TV series? Seeing all the actors drafted in to play villains and corpses and hapless witnesses and saying "Cor, wow, what did he used to be in before, you know, the funny cop programme with whozit and thingummybob..." It works also for Begerac, which we have been watching at home. Bit parts by Warren Clarke and Greta Scacchi among others.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-10-05 10:07 am (UTC)
It's a small world, the world of TV drama. It's always fun- with the big budget series- to see which of the neighbours they've invited round to guest this week.
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[User Picture]From: goddlefrood
2007-10-05 01:04 am (UTC)
I never watched it much either when it was on, but was recently given the complete collection on DVD. They're gentle enough, although hardly taxing. My brother and mother both loved it and without wishing to denigrate them they're both far more easily impressed by wealth and position than I am.

The books really aren't very good at all, I've read a few mostly because they're easy enough reads and while away a few hours. It's little wonder really that there were far fewer books than there were TV programs. The main advanatage Morse as a television spectacle had was the settings. When description is not one's forte, as it isn't in Colin Dexter's case, then setting counts for little. No doubt one day, as with many of these things, someone will novelise the as yet unwritten down TV episodes.

Of course, there are many worse detective book series than Morse, naming no names.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-10-05 10:10 am (UTC)
One doesn't read detective fiction for its literary merit. And speaking for myself I find the consciously literary genre writers rather a pain. Sayers for instance. The early Wimseys are great, but the later ones- where she's also trying to write the definitive Oxford novel or whatever- are almost unreadable.
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[User Picture]From: goddlefrood
2007-10-06 05:56 am (UTC)
One doesn't read detective fiction for its literary merit.

True enough. I read it mostly because it's so far removed from what I see of the real legal world that it amuses me. I like the short Wimsey stories, but the books not so much.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-10-06 09:56 am (UTC)
Agatha Christie is the model detective story writer. She doesn't have pretensions to be anything other than a maker of tight, wonderfully constructed puzzles.
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From: senordildo
2007-10-08 07:49 am (UTC)
Some detective fiction is worth reading for literary merit--Chandler and Hammett were great stylists, and Conan Doyle's stories are the model of a clear, effective, simple yet strong style. Plus they feature the best rendered friendship in literature next to Johnson and Boswell's.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-10-08 09:39 am (UTC)
I thought someone might mention Chandler.

I approach the detective story as a British (or at least European) phenomenon. I have this feeling- I'm not sure whether I'm right or wrong- that the American, hard-boiled detective story is so different as to constitute a separate genre.

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