British mystery author Colin Dexter, "whose irascible, poetry-loving detective, Chief Inspector Morse, pursued clues and cask-conditioned ale through 13 novels and a popular television series," died March 21, the New York Times reported. He was 86. Dexter published his first Morse novel, Last Bus to Woodstock, in 1975, and in "the dozen novels that followed, Mr. Dexter, a fan of cryptic crosswords, planted false clues and red herrings with abandon, presenting Morse, and his readers, with fiendishly difficult puzzles to solve."
In 1989, the Crime Writers' Association of Britain gave him the Golden Dagger for The Wench Is Dead, and he received the award again in 1992 for The Way Through the Woods. In 1997, he was presented with the organization's Diamond Dagger for lifetime achievement. The popular Inspector Morse TV series, starring John Thaw as Morse and Kevin Whately as Lewis, ran from 1987 to 2000 (it was seen on PBS in the U.S.) and generated the sequels Lewis and Endeavour.
"He was one of the greatest crime novelists of the 20th century and deserves to be ranked alongside Chandler, Christie and Doyle," said Andrew Gulli, the editor of the Strand magazine.
Jeremy Trevathan, Dexter's publisher at Macmillan, told the Bookseller that Dexter's writing represented "the absolute epitome of British crime writing" and his death would mean a "tectonic shift in the international crime writing scene." His most recent editor, Maria Rejt, said Dexter had "the sharpest mind and the biggest heart."
David Kelly, sales manager at Blackwell's, which has its head office and flagship branch in Oxford, said Dexter and the Morse novels "were synonymous with Oxford and indeed our shop, so it's with great sadness that we received the news. The success of the Morse series continues every year and draws tourists from across the world to Oxford. Colin was a great friend and supporter of our shop, even writing an article in the Bookseller citing ourselves as his favorite ever bookshop. Many of us have met him over the years as an author and as a customer and have always thoroughly enjoyed his fantastic company."
Calling Dexter a "revolutionary," author Lee Child said, "He wrote a character without any concessions at all to likely popularity--Morse was bad tempered, cantankerous, esoteric and abstruse--and thereby showed us that integrity and authenticity work best. His literary descendants are everywhere. When our genre's family tree is drawn, he's the root of a huge portion of it."