THE WASHINGTON POST BOOK WORLD
Morse is enjoying a rare if unsatisfying holiday in Dorset when the first letter appears in THE TIMES. A year before, a stunning Swedish student disappeared from Oxfordshire, leaving behind a rucksack with her identification. As the lady was dishy, young, and traveling alone, the Thames Valley Police suspected foul play. But without a body, and with precious few clues, the investigation ground to a halt. Now it seems that someone who can hold back no longer is composing clue-laden poetry that begins an enthusiastic correspondence among England's news-reading public. Not one to be left behind, Morse writes a letter of his own--and follows a twisting path through the Wytham Woods that leads to a most shocking murder.
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A perpetual holiday is a good working definition of Hell
(George Bernard Shaw)
Morse never took his fair share of holidays, so he told himself. So he was telling Chief Superintendent Strange that morning in early June.
“Remember you’ve also got to take into consideration the time you regularly spend in pubs, Morse!”
“A few hours here and there, perhaps, I agree. It wouldn’t be all that difficult to work out how much—”
“ ‘Quantify’, that’s the word you’re looking for.”
“I’d never look for ugly words like ‘quantify’.”
“A useful word, Morse. It means—well, it means to say how much …”
“That’s just what I said, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know why I argue with you!”
Nor did Morse.
For many years now, holidays for Chief Inspector Morse of Thames Valley CID had been periods of continuous and virtually intolerable stress. And what they must normally be like for men with the extra handicaps of wives and children, even Morse for all his extravagant imagination could scarcely conceive. But for this year, for the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and ninety-two, he was resolutely determined that things would be different: he would have a holiday away from Oxford. Not abroad, though. He had no wanderlust for Xanadu or Isfahan; indeed he very seldom travelled abroad at all—although it should be recorded that several of his colleagues attributed such insularity more than anything to Morse’s faint-hearted fear of aeroplanes. Yet as it happened it had been one of those same colleagues who had first set things in motion.
“Lime, mate! Lime’s marvellous!”
Only several months later had the word finally registered in Morse’s mind, when he had read the advertisement in The Observer:
THE BAY HOTEL
Surely one of the finest settings of any hotel in the West Country! We are the only hotel on the Marine Parade and we enjoy panoramic views from Portland Bill to the east, to the historic Cobb Harbour to the west. The hotel provides a high standard of comfort and cuisine, and a friendly relaxed atmosphere. There are level walks to the shops and harbour, and traffic-free access to the beach, which is immediately in front of the hotel.
For full details please write to The Bay Hotel, Lyme Regis, Dorset; or just telephone (0297) 442059.
“It gets tricky,” resumed Strange, “when a senior man takes more than a fortnight’s furlough—you realize that, of course.”
“I’m not taking more than what’s due to me.”
“Where are you thinking of?”
“Ah. Glorious Devon.”
“Next door, surely?”
“Persuasion—it’s where some of the scenes in Persuasion are set.”
“Ah.” Strange looked suitably blank.
“And The French Lieutenant’s Woman.”
“Ah. I’m with you. Saw that at the pictures with the wife … Or was it on the box?”
“Well, there we are then,” said Morse lamely.
For a while there was a silence. Then Strange shook his head.
“You couldn’t stick being away that long! Building sand-castles? For over a fortnight?”
“Coleridge country too, sir. I’ll probably drive around a bit—have a look at Ottery St. Mary … some of the old haunts.”
A low chuckle emanated from somewhere deep in Strange’s belly. “He’s been dead for ages, man—more Max’s cup o’ tea than yours.”
Morse smiled wanly. “But you wouldn’t mind me seeing his birth-place?”
“It’s gone. The rectory’s gone. Bulldozed years ago.”
Strange puckered his lips, and nodded his head. “You think I’m an ignorant sod, don’t you, Morse? But let me tell you something. There was none of this child-centred nonsense when I was at school. In those days we all had to learn things off by heart—things like yer actual Ancient Bloody Mariner.”
“My days too, sir.” It irked Morse that Strange, only a year his senior, would always treat him like a representative of some much younger generation.
But Strange was in full flow.
“You don’t forget it, Morse. It sticks.” He peered briefly but earnestly around the lumber room of some olden memories; then found what he was seeking, and with high seriousness intoned a stanza learned long since:
“All in a hot and copper sky
The bloody sun at noon
Right up above the mast did stand
No bigger than the bloody moon!”
“Very good, sir,” said Morse, uncertain whether the monstrous misquotation were deliberate or not, for he found the chief superintendent watching him shrewdly.
“No. You won’t last the distance. You’ll be back in Oxford within the week. You’ll see!”
“So what? There’s plenty for me to do here.”
“For a start there’s a drain-pipe outside the flat that’s leaking—”
Strange’s eyebrows shot up. “And you’re telling me you’re going to fix that?”
“I’ll get it fixed,” said Morse ambiguously. “I’ve already got a bit of extra piping but the, er, diameter of the cross-section is … rather too narrow.”
“It’s too bloody small, you mean? Is that what you’re trying to say?”
Morse nodded, a little sheepishly.
The score was one-all.