Colin was eighty-six, so it's not as if his death was unexpected, but still... For me, his loss is a passing of a part of my creative life--and the personal loss of a man I knew and liked.
When I went to Oxford for the first time it was not long after the publication of the first Morse novel, LAST BUS TO WOODSTOCK, in 1975, and I remember watching for street signs and looking at maps, imprinting the locations from the book. I'm sure I was influenced in my writing more than I realized by Dexter's Morse, the quintessential irascible detective, lover of opera, crosswords, good whisky, women, and wine.
I know that when I wrote an academic mystery, I set it in Cambridge rather than my much-loved Oxford, because I didn't dare tread on Morse territory.
|Colin (center) with John Thaw and Kevin Whately.|
Colin Dexter was many things. A skilled novelist, a master plotter, a creator of characters that will long outlive him. But he was also a very kind man.
I met Colin for the first time in the mid-nineties, at a Mystery Weekend at St. Hilda's College, Oxford, where he was a keynote speaker. Some of you may know that Colin was very deaf (in fact, one of my favorite Morse novels is The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn, about the murder of a deaf Oxford don) and that I also am completely deaf in one ear. That weekend, I was a newly minted novelist, but Colin and I formed a bond over our lack of hearing, and whenever I met him afterwards, he never failed to remember me.
The last time I saw Colin was perhaps three or four years ago. I was waiting in the reception area of our mutual publisher in London, when who came in but Colin! He was alone, and seemed quite frail, and he was told rather brusquely by the receptionist to take a seat and wait. When I went over to him and introduced myself, he lit up. He not only remembered me because I was deaf, but he knew my name and my books. I was so flattered, and touched. When we were both ushered up to the inner sanctum, I helped organize tea for him and we had a nice chat.
I'm so sorry that I did not meet him again. But Morse lives on, in print and on film, and if you watch very carefully, so does Colin, in his walk-on cameos in every episode of the series.
There will be many tributes, and recitations of Colin's honors, so well deserved. But, for now, I am going to go read a book, one set in Oxford, and remember the man I knew...
Reds and readers, how will you remember Colin?