The Way Through the Woods (1992) – Colin Dexter
This is the tenth Inspector Morse mystery and one of the best. (It was awarded the Gold Dagger by the British Crime Writers Association.) When Morse and Lewis investigate the case of a Swedish student who went missing a year earlier, the twists and turns abound.
There are two British authors whose use of unusual words always leads me to compile a list to investigate after I’ve finished the book: Reginald Hill and Colin Dexter. Dexter was a crossword constructor for years, so his love of language comes as no surprise. I don’t mind; it’s fun to discover meanings of words like “boustrophedon,” and one can usually get the gist from the context and look the definitions up later.
Dexter’s style in this book is more complex than usual: he uses diary entries, newspaper articles, letters and even religious confessions, as well as narrative, to tell the story. There are multiple points of view as well, but all these elements are blended into a book that pulls the reader steadily along to its surprising conclusion.
I’ve read this book at least four times and there are still things that give me pause. It’s clear to me that some of the events are left deliberately ambiguous (e.g., who is the woman who rings Morse’s doorbell at the end?).
I’m always surprised when people who say they are fans of the Inspector Morse TV series (and Inspector Lewis and Endeavor) confess that they have never read Colin Dexter. If you are one of them, it’s time to start!