LONDON — Colin Dexter, the unassuming British writer who created curmudgeonly, music-loving Oxford detective Inspector Morse, has died aged 86.
Publisher Pan Macmillan said Dexter died Tuesday at his home in Oxford, southern England.
Macmillan publisher Jeremy Trevathan said Dexter “represented the absolute epitome of British crime writing.”
“With Colin’s death there has been a tectonic shift in the international crime writing scene,” he said.
Crime writer Ian Rankin tweeted that Dexter was “a gentle man with a steel mind; and the creator of such an iconic character.”
Born in 1930 in Stamford, central England, Dexter studied classics at Cambridge University and became a teacher, examiner and textbook author before turning to fiction. He began writing a detective novel to help pass the time during a wet vacation in Wales.
“Last Bus to Woodstock,” published in 1975, introduced Morse, a detective with a love of real ale, classical music and crosswords — and for a long time, no first name, at least not one disclosed to readers.
In the 1996 novel “Death is Now My Neighbor” his given name was revealed to be Endeavour.
Morse, accompanied by the trustworthy Sgt. Lewis, solved murders and mysteries in the ancient English university city in 13 novels until Dexter killed him off in “The Remorseful Day” in 1999.
Some fans were distraught to see Morse go.
“I get letters from people who are very fed up and say they are not going to forgive me,” Dexter said the following year. “But he’s been with me for 27 years and I’m going to miss him more than anybody.”
Dexter shared his hero’s affection for good beer, classical music and crossword puzzles, but by all accounts lacked his prickly nature.
Maria Rejt, Dexter’s editor at Macmillan, said he would be remembered for “his loyalty, modesty and self-deprecating humor.”
“His was the sharpest mind and the biggest heart, and his wonderful novels and stories will remain a testament to both,” Rejt said.
Dexter acknowledged that his characters would be “a miserable sod if you took him to a pub.”
“He would never pay for a beer, which would rank in many people’s minds as a worse sin than adultery,” the writer told The Associated Press in 1997.
But, Dexter added, “he has many likable traits. He has got a sense of justice and fair play. I think he’s vulnerable and sensitive.”
Morse was played — to perfection, in the eyes of many — by the late John Thaw in a successful TV version that ran from 1987 to 2000. Dexter made uncredited cameo appearances in many of the 33 episodes, which fans took delight in spotting.
He continued the practice in two television spinoffs: “Lewis,” which centered on Morse’s former sidekick; and “Endeavour,” which showed the beginning of Morse’s career in the 1960s.
Kevin Lygo, director of television at broadcaster ITV, said the network “is very grateful to Colin for bringing so much joy to the audience over the years, and the world of Inspector E. Morse will live forever.”
In 2000, Dexter was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to literature.
He said at the time that if Morse really existed, he “would probably say to me, ‘Well, you didn’t do me too bad a service in your writing.’
“He might say, ‘I wish you’d made me a slightly less miserable blighter and slightly more generous, and you could have painted me in a little bit of a better light.’ ”