This is among my favorites of the books in Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse series, mainly because the conceit is so clever. In the other Morse novels, as is the case with virtually all police procedurals, a crime is committed--usually a murder--and then Morse appears on the scene, begins an investigation and hopefully brings the guilty party to justice.
In this case, though, Morse is laid up in the hospital with a perforated ulcer and is confined to bed for a couple of weeks. While lying there, he reads a short publication detailing the brutal rape and murder of a woman named Joanna Franks and the subsequent trial and execution of her alleged killers. The crime occurred a hundred and thirty years earlier, in 1859. Mrs. Franks, who apparently could not afford a ticket on the train or on a stage, had booked passage on a canal boat, journeying from Preston Brook south to Oxford. The sensual young woman was the only passenger on the boat, which was carrying freight, and according to the testimony at the trial, she immediately aroused the animal passions of the four drunken, derelict crewmen who ultimately forced themselves upon her, killed her and then dumped her body into the canal.
Morse is fascinated by the story, but his keen investigative mind is troubled by some of the details of the alleged crime. He's also bothered by the fact that the defendants were immediately presumed to be guilty and were not allowed the presumption of innocence. From his hospital bed, Morse begins his own investigation of the incident, assisted as always, by his able sidekick, Sergeant Lewis, and by a sexy young librarian who's visiting her father who is in the next bed. Lewis and the librarian dig through the available old records at Morse's instruction, and by the time he leaves the hospital, Morse is convinced that he has the real solution to the crime.
Again, it's a very clever idea and it's very well executed. It's a fun tale and fans of Chief Inspector Morse will certainly want to seek it out.