Inspector Morse author Colin Dexter dies aged 86

The creator of the great detective died peacefully at his home in Oxford

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Colin Dexter, the author of the Inspector Morse books, has died aged 86.

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His publisher announced the news in a statement on Tuesday: “With immense sadness, MacMillan announces the death of Colin Dexter who died peacefully at his home in Oxford this morning.”

Dexter wrote 14 Morse novels between 1975 and 1999; the series of books were adapted by ITV, with John Thaw starring as Endeavour Morse between 1987 and 2000.

Dexter’s characters also featured in spin-off show Lewis starring Kevin Whately and the prequel series Endeavour starring Shaun Evans, with Dexter acting as a consultant for both shows.

The Cambridge-educated polymath started his life as a teacher in Leicester before he was forced to retire from the profession because of the onset of hearing problems.

He then worked for Oxford University’s exam board, a job he held until 1988 and which he pursued in conjunction with his writing.

He wrote his first Morse novel, Last Bus to Woodstock, in 1975 while on holiday in Wales, and bid farewell to the detective in the final book The Remorseful Day.

As well as winning many crime fiction prizes, Dexter was made an OBE in 2000 and received the freedom of the city of Oxford in 2001.

Dexter was a passionate crossword compiler who made the puzzles synonymous with the fictional world of Inspector Morse, often deploying them as a mental aid to help the detective on the path to catching a killer.

“Murder mysteries are like crossword clues in that the setter seeks to obscure their intention and actively misdirect the solver from the truth,” Dexter told Radio Times. “That’s part of the reason why crosswords appeal to Endeavour. Plus they are, for the most part, a solitary pursuit.”

He also named his great detective after Sir Jeremy Morse, a long-standing friend and crossword compiler. Morse’s sidekick Lewis was also named after another crossword professional, Mrs B Lewis, who wrote the Everyman puzzle in the Observer.

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Explaining the popularity of his Morse stories, Dexter told Radio Times in 2012 that he had a particular fondness for Lewis: “Lewis gets a hard deal as the underdog – one reason why viewers are on his side. And he listens, which is a great thing. Not many people do.”