Customer Reviews: Last Bus to Woodstock
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on July 31, 2000
I have known of Inspector Morse (the hero(?)) of this book, for years through TV, so I had a set ideas of what he, and his cases, were like before I read this book. I should not have been so narrow minded. The plot appears quite simple, and at the start, boring. A young, somewhat "tarty" girl gets nastily murdered outside an Oxford pub. She was seen before the murder with a female companion hitch hiking. The obvious suspect (the owner of the car which picks the girls up) comes forward...and all hell breaks loose. The story is quite difficult to follow and slow, but the character of Morse, the Inspector in charge, and his relationship with his new "sidekick" Sergent Lewis, make the book good, and quite compelling. The "shock" ending is not so great a shock, but more a sad one. What makes the story better than average is Dexter's description of Morse's character and the way his mind works, his little quirks and habits. For a first book in a series it is slow, but still compelling enough to make me want to read more. I would not recommend this book if you are one for skipping ahead, or you get bored easily. The slow build up is something that adds to the whole book, if not the basic plot.
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The first in the series of Inspector Morse mysteries, this 1975 story of murder centers on the death of Sylvia Kaye, a young woman who has been found dead in the car park of a local pub by the young man she was supposed to meet. The biggest clues to her death are a letter in code addressed to a woman Sylvia worked for at an insurance agency and a hand-delivered envelope large enough to have contained a significant amount of money. Running parallel with this investigation of Sylvia, her friends, and her free-wheeling lifestyle, is the story of Oxford dons, one of whom is hoping to become the new department chair, a position his wife is very anxious for him to attain.

Morse and Sgt. Lewis show only hints of the personalities that will develop later as the series continues. The beer-drinking Morse is a student of literature, and he enjoys discussing the poetry of Herbert Spenser and John Wilmot with Angie Hartman, a young Oxford student. Depicted as something of a young hot-shot, Morse relies on Sgt. Lewis, who, surprisingly, is described as older than Morse in this book and somewhat more adept at police procedure, another difference from later novels and from the TV series.

As Morse investigates the insurance agency where Sylvia worked, the young man she was supposed to meet, and life at Oxford, the plot lines, most of them involving "illicit" sex, begin to converge. Max, the pathologist in the series, makes his first brief appearance here, and several quirky characters give life to the mystery as Morse investigates a fairly standard but well-plotted whodunit. Fans of the series will be intrigued to see the characters as Colin Dexter first conceived of them and will delight in making comparisons between this first novel and his later ones. n Mary Whipple
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on May 30, 2000
I confess to an unfair advantage .... I was living near Oxford when Colin Dexter first introduced his character, Morse. Dexter was not well known at the time but 'Last Bus ...' was a big success locally. I remember walking or driving the same streets that came to life in his book and I was immediately captivated by the way he brought out the atmosphere of the city and the guilty 'looking over the shoulder' mannerism of the characters. Yes, this was the first of the Morse books and a superb launchpad for those to follow. The way he introduced the setting, the characters to his new readershhip ... Of course, the rest is history. Curiously, I still think this is the best of his books.
Terence Hardiman must have been a perfect choice as story reader - he appeared as one of the characters in the TV production - and would have made a good 'Morse'. Gems of literary devices are many, but I particularly liked the bit about the batsman checking the scorebook. A bit like when another character in a different TV series, coincidentally also played by Hardiman, opens an envelope to read the one word denouement, 'Voltaire.' Have I given it away? I think not, but if you can deduce the guilty party from this, you could do Morse's job better than he can. Enjoy.
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on February 11, 2014
I am afraid that I am not a fan of Inspector Morse, the Oxford detective in charge of investigating the murder of a young woman in this, the first novel of a series of novels written about him by Colin Dexter. Though an Anglophile with an abiding respect for the mystery novel, I just can’t endorse this novel with a plodding investigation involving a few Oxford dons, a small business office, and a few nurses at a hospital, conducted thoroughly and with a small amount of endearing attitude by the dour Morse. The characters were ordinary and drab, Morse’s personal involvement seemed weird, and the denouement strained credibility, or at least it did mine. The plot was exceedingly complex and not without some twists you can’t see coming but there are other novels out there with richer characterization, a sense of place, and more atmosphere than this standard genre entry.
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on July 8, 2007
Colin Dexter was born in 1930 and, over the course of his writing career, has won CWA Gold Dagger and Silver Dagger awards. "Last Bus to Woostock" was his debut novel, was first published in 1975 and introduced the world to the famous Inspector Morse.

However, the book's victim is introduced before the hero. Sylvia Kaye and a friend are travelling into Ocford city centre for a night out - unfortunately, believing they had missed the last bus, the pair had hitched into town. Several hours later, Sylvia's body is found in the car park at the back of the Black Prince, with the murder weapon - a heavy tyre spanner - conveniently lying beside her. The case sees Morse paired up with Sergeant Lewis for the first time. The pair seem to have little in common : where Lewis is married and reads the Daily Mirror, Morse is single, lives alone and enjoys the cryptic crosswords in the Times. Morse is fussy about spelling and grammar, enjoys classical music and is partial to a few drinks. The crime scene, being a pub, would appear to be a case of the Inspector mixing work and pleasure - and, although he isn't supposed to drink on the job, he happily bends that rule once in a while. (He also seems to take great pleasure in refusing to allow Lewis do the same). When the investigation gets up and running, Morse is very curious about two people in particular : Sylvia's friend - who, strangely, remains anonymous and doesn't come forward - and whoever it was picked the pair up.

"Last Bus to Woodstock" is quite possibly the politest murder-mystery book I have ever read - for example, Morse's arrival at the scene of the crime is announced with the exclamation "How he hated sex murders !". There didn't really seem to be much method to the investigation - it's built on assumptions and leaps of faith - while I found it a little odd there was no apparent lab work. (The murder weapon, which was found at the scene, was roundly ignored !). I realise the book was written in the 1970s, but surely some fingerprinting and forensics work would have been available - even in Oxford? Overall, the book is a little slow and plodding, and by the time the book reached its climax - where Morse revealed all - I really didn't care all that much. Based on Morse's popularity, I can only assume the series improves drastically as it goes along.
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on October 18, 2015
The story lacked excitement in the writing...Seemed the author just couldn't tie things together. The whole thing is lost about 20% into the book.
It is all British...I've read a few books from across the Pond, and I'm sure this author was popular at one point...Old stuff. Didn't hold my interest.
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on August 2, 2012
Last Bus to Woodstock is a fine novel in the police procedural genre of detective fiction. The book was first published in London in 1975. The novel has a good plot, fascinating characters and will keep you turning the pages until the end! The novel is the first in the series featuring the brilliant and quirky Inspector Morse of the Thames Valley Police Department. The beat is in Oxford and its local villages. Throughout the novel we begin to care for Morse. He is a middle aged Oxford graduate who is single and loves beautiful women. Morse is adept at crossword puzzles and clues; tippling at the local pub and listening on a rainy afternoon to a segment of Richard Wagner's immense Ring Cycle. The novel also introduces us to Sergeant Lewis who will feature in all the Morse books. PBS has made Colin Dexter a rich man! Dexter is witty and wise to the ways of the world. Colin Dexter quotes from literary sources but writes in an easy to read style which draws the reader into the story. Dexter is also a master of snappy dialogue moving the story on until its surprising and poignant denoument.
The Plot: Two young ladies are waiting for a bus to Woodstock which is a town close to Oxford. One of them whose name is Sylvia Kaye is found later to have been brutally murdered and raped. Morse and Lewis are called upon to solve the crime. During the course of the investigation, Morse falls in love with a friend of Sylvia's.
If you want to peruse the best in British crime writing this is a good place to begin your journey with the inimitable Messrs Morse and Lewis!
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on November 24, 2004
Inspector Morse is known to millions through the excellent BBC/PBS television series. While I am a huge fan of the TV episodes, due in no small part to the work of John Thaw as he portays our hero, I find the level of detail offered by the books even more captivating.

This book tells the story of the first case that Morse and his sidekick Sergent Lewis are assigned to. A young woman last seen hitchhiking with a friend is found battered to death in a pub yard later the same night. Morse and Lewis are human and make many mistakes as they fight through lies and deceit to finally uncover the truth. The twist at the end is a real shock, cleverly worked leaving a feeling of sadness with the reader.

But the quality of the Morse series by Colin Dexter is not the interesting stories or clever twists that are a requirement of a good mystery. The real attraction is the character of Morse, a hugely complex man, alcoholic, lovable, egotistic, vunerable, cultured, bad tempered, lonely, this is no infallible super hero. Morse also uses his intelligence not his athletic brawn to sift through the clues, something not seen often in murder mystery these days (probably because if the detective has to think so does the author).

There are only a few quality mystery writers out there still writing, Mr Dexter is one of the best exponents of his craft and well worth your attention.
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on October 14, 2012
I am a particular fan of British mystery/procedurals and have read and re-read Dorothy Sayers, P.D.James, Deboria Crombie, Peter Robinson and Charles Todd with unabated delight, but after plodding through the first three of the Morse books I have struck Colin Dexter from my list. I had not watched the Inspector Morse series on TV, had no preconceived ideas about the characters or the format, and relied only on the enthusiasm expressed by other readers. Perhaps my expectations were too high. I found the characters unappealing and the plots flat and tedious.
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VINE VOICEon June 4, 2012
Last Bus To Woodstock introduces the reader to Chief Inspector Morse of Oxford, England. Morse is quirky, at times cantankerous, persistent, and even brilliant, particularly when solving murders. He is a fan of the English language, likes his crossword puzzles and poetry, and takes it personally when folks abuse their privilege while either speaking or writing. We also meet Sgt. Lewis, who is teamed up with Morse for the first time, much to his delight and consternation.

The crime here is the murder of a young, very attractive woman, who may or may not have been a "tart" - her body found in a pub's parking lot. As Morse and Lewis investigate, it soon becomes clear they need a scorecard to keep track of who is having an affair with whom, their victim's romantic adventures by no means an exception to the rule in Oxford. (Our hero even falls head over heels for one of the victim's room-mates.) And the ending/conclusion is a tad overly-complicated.

It has been a while since I've read a Morse mystery - the last one published in 1999 - and it's probably been at least 20 years since I read this one. Last Bus To Woodstock is slow to start and the reader gets just a flavor of who Morse and Lewis "become" in the later books. Interestingly, considering the "topic" - sex - I didn't find the writing/reading dated.

If you're new to Morse and start here - and enjoy the book - you're in for a treat, for the later books are "better". So don't hesitate to continue on. If like me, it's been a while since you've visited with Morse and Lewis - it's worth the read.
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