The Riddle of the Third Mile

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The Riddle of the Third Mile
Dexter - Riddle of Third Mile.jpg
Cover of the first edition
Author Colin Dexter
Cover artist Chris Brown
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series Inspector Morse series, #6
Genre crime novel
Publisher Macmillan
Publication date
27 October 1983
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 224p.
ISBN 0-333-35812-0
OCLC 59092912
Preceded by The Dead of Jericho
Followed by The Secret of Annexe 3

The Riddle of the Third Mile is a crime novel by Colin Dexter, the sixth novel in Inspector Morse series.

Inspector Morse is not sure what to make of the truncated body found dumped in the Oxford Canal, but he suspects it may be all that's left of an elderly Oxford don last seen boarding the London train several days before. Whatever the truth, the inspector knows it will not be simple—it never is. As he retraces Professor Browne-Smith's route through a London netherworld of topless bars and fancy bordellos, his forebodings are fulfilled. The evidence mounts; so do the bodies. So Morse downs another pint, unleashes his pit bull instincts, and solves a mystery that defies all logic.

Publication history[edit]

Plot summary[edit]

The novel is divided into three books - the first mile, the second mile and the third mile. The title is a reference to the biblical sentence "And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain" as in St Matthew, Chapter Five, Verse Forty-One. The third mile could also indirectly refer to a particularly elaborate scheme used in the book to lure three of the college staff to London.

The First mile[edit]

There are three main narratives in this book.

During the Second World War, there are three brothers Albert, Alfred and John Gilbert serving as tank drivers in the army. Albert and Alfred are said to be look-alike twins. The youngest brother is trapped in his tank during an offensive and is burnt to death. The two elder brothers are unable to help due to a direct order from the lieutenant Browne-Smith. They develop a hatred towards Browne-Smith (mistakenly) believing that his cowardice caused their brother's death.

At the present time, Browne-Smith is a Professor at Oxford. He departs on a mysterious trip to London where he visit a topless bar and then proceeds to a brothel. There he is served drugged drinks and collapses on the bed.

A few days later, the Master of Lonsdale College invites Morse to lunch and voices suspicion about the disappearance of Browne-Smith. He has left the college without any communication or forwarding address. Morse promises to keep an eye out for any information that comes his way. It is revealed that Morse was a student of Browne-Smith in his college days and the reason Morse picked up his obsession for grammar and spelling. We also see a short flashback into Morse's days in Oxford and his breakup with his lover.

Then, the police discover a dismembered corpse in the water at Thrupp. The corpse is missing the head, arms and legs. This makes identification difficult, but Morse believes that the corpse could be that of Browne-Smith. It is also found that Browne-Smith was suffering from a brain tumour and had only a few more weeks left to live.

The Second Mile[edit]

As more evidence accumulates, suspicion seems to fall on the Don Westerby who was antagonistic towards Browne-Smith at Lonsdale College and is supposedly on a holiday in Greece after his recent retirement. But Morse speculates that the body is not that of Browne-Smith but probably Westerby, thereby the need to dismember the corpse to confuse the police.

During a visit to Browne-Smith's room at the college, Morse meets one of the Gilbert twins who is running a packers and movers business engaged to shift the retired Westerby's effects. Morse gains the address of Westerby's new flat in London from the Gilbert twin. On travelling there, he finds another corpse, this time stabbed with a screwdriver. In a moment of forgiveable lapse brought about his fear of corpses, Morse does not recognise the murderer and allows him to walk free.

The second mile concludes with three more deaths - one being murder, one suicide and one natural causes, leaving none of the suspects alive.

The Third Mile[edit]

Morse largely guesses how things happened. His theory goes as follows: the Gilbert twins wanted to kill Browne-Smith in order to avenge the death of Johnny Gilbert and set up an elaborate scheme to lure him to London. They realise that Johnny actually committed suicide so let Browne-Smith go. Browne-Smith, in turn, uses the same scheme to lure Westerby and confronts him before realising that he was mistaken in his antagonism. He has always assumed (wrongly) that Westerby had voted against him in the election for Master of the college. Westerby and Browne-Smith both realise that the current Master had voted against both of them in their previous elections. So they use the same scheme for the third time to lure the Master to London and kill him. Browne-Smith was, however, guilt-ridden and tried to steer Morse to the culprits. It is suggested that he was mentally not in control due to side-effects of the tumour.

Morse further guesses that the corpse found in Trupp was that of the Master. Westerby killed Alfred in his London flat and in turn, Albert killed Westerby and then committed suicide. Browne-Smith died of his tumour.


  • Albert Gilbert

He is one of the Gilbert twins. He is described as the quick witted and resourceful of the two. He kills Westerby and commits suicide on learning that his wife has left him.

  • Alfred Gilbert

He is the second twin and is killed by Westerby.

  • Professor Browne-Smith

He is a don in Lonsdale College and suffering from a life-threatening brain tumour. He was a former Lieutenant and the Gilbert brothers served under him. Like Morse, he is obsessed with grammar and spelling.

  • Professor Westerby

Another professor at Lonsdale who dislikes Browne-Smith as he thinks that Smith voted against him in the election for the Master's seat. He used his car to dump the first corpse into the river at Trupp.

  • Master of Lonsdale

While never mentioned by name, he is finally revealed to be of a dubious character. He voted against Smith and later Westerby thereby voting them out of the race for the Mastership. He is also said to be involved in inappropriate dealings about examination results.

Sources, references, external links[edit]

  • Bishop, David, The Complete Inspector Morse: From the Original Novels to the TV Series London: Reynolds & Hearn (2006) ISBN 1-905287-13-5
  • Bird, Christopher, The World of Inspector Morse: A Complete A-Z Reference for the Morse Enthusiast Foreword by Colin Dexter, London: Boxtree (1998) ISBN 0-7522-2117-5