Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse – The Flawed Detective

I was introduced to the sensitive, melancholy, vulnerable yet independent, brusque, and misogynistic Chief Inspector Morse in ‘The Remorseful Day’, in Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse series.

It was the last book in the series and Inspector Morse dies in it of complications from diabetes, aggravated by too much alcohol. Maybe that was the reason I never could dislike him much in the earlier books which I went on to read one after another over the period of a couple months afterwards.

Chief Inspector Morse isn’t easy to like. He is an aficionado of philosophy, literature, music (For those things alone, though, you can fall in love with him.), crossword puzzles, perfect grammar, and classic cars. He is an intellectual snob. He is not absolutely brilliant when it comes to solve crimes; He often ends up arresting the wrong person or arriving at a wrong conclusion.

He is unquestionably fond of Lewis, and yet he frequently snaps at him for little or no reason.

As a person, he is a mess. His personal life is a mess. He drinks too much. He cannot maintain a personal relationship. He is self-absorbed, sullen, and moody.

He has many phobias. He is scared of height, dark, flying, and spiders. In the Riddle of the Third Mile, for example, he is afraid of dead bodies. On several occasions in other books, Morse gets sick after looking at the dead bodies of people who died of unnatural causes.

“It is strange to relate (for a man in his profession) that in addition to incurable acrophobia, arachnophobia, myophobia, and ornithophobia, Morse also suffered from necrophobia; and had he known what awaited him now, it is doubtful whether he would have dared to view the horridly disfigured corpse at all.”

― The Riddle of the Third Mile

Whoever has read a book or two of Dexter’s knows of Morse’s love for pornography:

Walters looked quizzically at Morse, who sat reading one of the glossy ‘porno’ magazines he had brought from upstairs.

“You still sex-mad, I see, Morse,” said the surgeon.

“I don’t seem to be able to shake it off, Max.” Morse turned over a page. “And you don’t improve much either, do you? You’ve been examining all our bloody corpses for donkey’s years, and you still refuse to tell us when they died.”

― The Dead of Jericho


After following Morse’s exploits for a book or two, I have known readers who gave up trying. I know of some female readers, who hated Inspector Morse series because of the predominant misogynistic views of its male characters. (in Last Bus to Woodstock, Morse and Lewis spend quite a bit of time discussing whether it is possible for a woman to be raped and finally concluding that it’s quite impossible if the woman is unwilling!).

Personally, I’m not a fan of over-the-top-flawed fictional detectives. I like my detectives to be bright, well-mannered, and kind. They can be flawed without being mean-spirited and brusque. The best example is Chief Inspector Armand Gamache in Louise Penny’s ‘Three Pines series’. Gamache is a perfect gentleman. He has his own demons to fight, but he is utterly sensitive and kind.

Over the years and spending time with darlings like Adam Dalgliesh, Waxford, Miss Marple has made me partial to the likes of rogue detectives like Peter Diamond, Harry Bosch.

Having started the series with the last book and witnessing Morse’s death made me partial to his flaws in the earlier books; I admit I couldn’t warm up to Peter Diamond the way I chose to overlook Morse’s brusqueness.

Colin Dexter’s writing is brilliant. Despite Morse’s utterly flawed character, one cannot help but admire him for his brilliancy.

Meme credit @ weeguttersnipe and @ britishdetectives on tumbler


Neena  lives in Edmonton, Canada with her husband, two children, a highly energetic German Shepherd, and a lifetime collection of her favorite books.

A hermit at heart, she’s a permissive mother, a reluctant housekeeper, a superb cook, and a hard-core reader.

Tied to Deceit is her debut novel.

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