The cerebral TV detective Endeavour Morse first materialized in the bestselling crime novels by Colin Dexter. Morse was a fascinating new sort of cop, a sensitive soul in love with opera and poetry, not stereotypically weary and hard drinking. Inspector Morse proceeded to hook U.S. television audiences from 1988–2001, generated the sequel Inspector Lewis (2006–2016), and the prequel Endeavour (2012–) with Shaun Evans as the young Morse.

Here are all 13 titles as published, with commentary from two crime fiction aficionados who knew Dexter—Barry Forshaw, author of Crime Fiction: A Reader’s Guide, Brit Noir and American Noir, and Andrew Gulli, managing editor of The Strand mystery magazine.

  • 1.

    Last Bus to Woodstock (1975)

    Dexter first began writing in 1972, creating a police detective who’s passionate about the arts and whose intellect may be wasted in his position. Morse and partner DS Lewis explore the death of a girl beaten outside an Oxford pub. The author “struggled to refine [this debut book] into a form he found pleasing,” says Forshaw. That said, “it demonstrated at a stroke that Dexter was an effortless master of the crime novel.”

  • 2.

    Last Seen Wearing (1976)

    Like most Morse stories, this one centers on a puzzle. “Someone is dead, but not exactly dead,” says Gulli. In fact, the deceased is sending letters. Dexter’s second novel “firmly set his name as a writer who’d one day be the crime fiction heir to Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, and John Dickson Carr,” Gulli adds. “Though his works can be described as literary puzzles, Dexter was more concerned with the ultimate riddle—the motivations of the human mind.”

  • 3.

    The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn (1977)

    Like his character Nicholas Quinn, Dexter became a school administrator after losing his hearing. Here, Quinn joins an ad-hoc university

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