Picks and Pans Review: The Daughters of Cain

updated 05/08/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/08/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

By Colin Dexter

Brilliant, quick-thinking and more than a tad eccentric, Dexter's Inspector Morse stalks his prey like a nearsighted cat, swatting vainly at one phantom suspect after another before finally pouncing on the real culprit.

In The Daughters of Cain, the inspector—crankier and more cantankerous than his TV persona on PBS's Mystery!—is investigating the murder of a retired Oxford don. When his prime suspect can't be found, he suddenly finds himself with an embarrassment of alternates. Was it the don's prostitute lover? The suspect's battered wife? An embittered student?

As the chase progresses, readers may stumble over Morse's penchant for quoting Roman poets and his allusions to the likes of Fermat and Omar Khayyam. Still, Morse is a likable curmudgeon, prone to drinking and nicotine excesses, with a passion for Wagner as well as an oddly endearing habit of correcting his witnesses' grammar. Daughters may be too labyrinthine for lazy beach reading, but Dexter's talent for plot-thickening makes it worth the extra effort. (Crown, $21)

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