Evans Tries an O-Level

by

Colin Dexter

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Known to prison officers as “Evans the Break,” antagonist James Evans is a “congenital kleptomaniac” who’s escaped three times from various prisons. He’s now a prisoner at HM Prison Oxford, which is overseen by the Governor. Not the typical criminal, Evans is known for his friendly, joking attitude and maintains an playful, teasing relationship with the prison officers, especially Jackson. While at Oxford Prison, Evans begins taking night classes in O-level German and is the only student in the class; after six months of this, he asks to take the final exam. Seeing this as strange but harmless, the Governor bends to his request and arranges the details with the Secretary of the Examinations Board. They decide to have Reverend S. McLeery, a parson at St Mary Mags, act as the proctor to oversee Evans’s exam. Despite being closely watched by the Governor and many others, Evans manages to escape in the moments following his exam by posing as the proctor—a complicated plan made easier by the fact that Reverend McLeery is not, in fact, the real McLeery but one of Evans’s old friends. Eventually, the Governor catches up with Evans and manages to send him back to prison, interacting with him light-heartedly like it’s one big game of cat-and-mouse. Ultimately, Evans’s friendships with people outside of the prisons’ walls, along with his penchant for deception, allow him to escape once more—perhaps this time for good.

James Evans Quotes in Evans Tries an O-Level

The Evans Tries an O-Level quotes below are all either spoken by James Evans or refer to James Evans. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Intelligence and Deception Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the National Council of Education Research and Training edition of Evans Tries an O-Level published in 2015.
Evans Tries an O-Level Quotes

“There’s no record of violence. Quite a pleasant sort of chap, they tell me. Bit of a card, really. One of the stars at the Christmas concert. Imitations, you know the sort of thing: Mike Yarwood stuff. No, he’s just a congenital kleptomaniac, that’s all.”

Related Characters: The Governor (speaker), James Evans, The Secretary
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:

“Me ‘at? Huh!” Evans put his right hand lovingly on top of the filthy woollen, and smiled sadly. “D’you know, Mr Jackson, it’s the only thing that’s ever brought me any sort o’ luck in life. Kind o’ lucky charm, if you know what I mean. And today I thought—well, with me exam and all that…”

Buried somewhere in Jackson was a tiny core of compassion; and Evans knew it.

“Just this once, then, Shirley Temple.” (If there was one thing that Jackson genuinely loathed about Evans it was his long, wavy hair.)

Related Characters: James Evans (speaker), Jackson (speaker)
Related Symbols: Evans’s Hat
Page Number: 73-74
Explanation and Analysis:

“In the top right-hand corner write your index number—313. And in the box just below that, write your centre number—271. A’ right?”

Related Characters: Reverend Stuart McLeery (speaker), James Evans
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:

“Will ye please stop writing a wee while, Mr Evans, and listen carefully. Candidates offering German, 021-1, should note the following correction. ‘On page three, line fifteen, the fourth word should read goldenen, not goldene; and the whole phrase will therefore read zum goldenen Löwen, not zum goldene Löwen.’ I will repeat that…”

Related Characters: Reverend Stuart McLeery (speaker), James Evans
Page Number: 78-79
Explanation and Analysis:

There, sprawled back in Evans’s chair was a man (for a semi second Stephens thought it must be Evans), a grey regulation blanket slipping from his shoulders, the front of his closely cropped, irregularly tufted hair awash with fierce red blood which had dropped already through the small black beard, and was even now spreading horribly over the white clerical collar and down into the black clerical front […] the minister’s hand felt feebly for a handkerchief from his pocket, and held it to his bleeding head, the blood seeping slowly through the white linen.

Page Number: 81-82
Explanation and Analysis:

“And which one of you two morons was it who took Evans for a nice little walk to the main gates and waved him bye-bye?”

“It was me, sir,” stammered Stephens. “Just like you told me, sir. I could have sworn—”

“What? Just like I told you, you say? What the hell—?”

“When you rang, sir, and told me to—”

“When was that?” The Governor’s voice was a whiplash now.

“You know, sir. About twenty past eleven just before—”

“You blithering idiot, man! It wasn’t me who rang you. Don’t you realise—” But what was the use? He had used the telephone at that time, but only to try (unsuccessfully, once more) to get through to the Examinations Board.

Related Characters: The Governor (speaker), Stephens (speaker), James Evans, Jackson
Page Number: 84
Explanation and Analysis:

Yes, it had been a jolly good idea for “McLeery” to wear two black fronts, two collars. But that top collar! Phew! It had kept on slipping off the back stud; and there’d been that one panicky moment when “McLeery” had only just got his hand up to his neck in time to stop the collars springing apart before Stephens… Ah! They’d got that little problem worked out all right […] But all that fiddling about under the blanket with the black front and the stud at the back of the collar—that had been far more difficult than they’d ever bargained for […].

Related Characters: James Evans (speaker), Reverend Stuart McLeery, Stephens
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

“Tell me, Evans. How did you manage to plan all this business? You’ve had no visitors—I’ve seen to that. You’ve had no letters—”

“I’ve got lots of friends, though.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Me German teacher, for a start.”

“You mean—? But he was from the Technical College.”

Was ‘e?” Evans was almost enjoying it all now. “Ever check up on ‘im, sir?”

“God Almighty! There’s far more going on than I—”

“Always will be, sir.”

Related Characters: The Governor (speaker), James Evans (speaker), Reverend Stuart McLeery
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:

“See you soon, Evans.” It was almost as if the Governor were saying farewell to an old friend after a cocktail party.

“Cheerio, sir. I, er, I was just wonderin’. I know your German’s pretty good, sir, but do you know any more o’ these modern languages?”

“Not very well. Why?”

Evans settled himself comfortably on the back seat, and grinned happily. “Nothin’, really. I just ‘appened to notice that you’ve got some O-level Italian classes comin’ up next September, that’s all.”

“Perhaps you won’t be with us next September, Evans.”

James Roderick Evans appeared to ponder the Governor’s words deeply. “No. P’r’aps I won’t,” he said.

Related Characters: The Governor (speaker), James Evans (speaker), The Silent Prison Officer
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:
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Evans Tries an O-Level PDF

James Evans Character Timeline in Evans Tries an O-Level

The timeline below shows where the character James Evans appears in Evans Tries an O-Level. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Evans Tries an O-Level
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...of his prisoners can take the final exam in O-level German. The prisoner, James Roderick Evans, has been taking night classes since September and claims to be “dead keen to get... (full context)
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The Secretary bends to the Governor’s request to let Evans take the exam, agreeing that they should “give him a chance.” He asks if Evans... (full context)
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Known as “Evans the Break” by prison officers, James Evans has escaped three times from various prisons. He... (full context)
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In early June, Evans attends his final night class in German before his big exam. His German teacher wishes... (full context)
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The next morning, two prison officers visit Evans, who is wearing his signature “filthy-looking red-and-white bobble hat.” Jackson, the senior prisoner officer, has... (full context)
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Jackson barks at Evans to clean himself up for his exam and to remove his filthy hat. Evans’s hand... (full context)
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After Evans washes up, Jackson pays him another visit. He orders Evans to take down his posters... (full context)
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Gesturing to the ceiling, Evans asks Jackson why he had to be bugged. Jackson reminds him that the prison officers... (full context)
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...him off to Stephens. Meanwhile, the Governor switches on the receiver to listen in to Evans’s cell, wondering if all the extra safety precautions are a bit over the top. Suddenly,... (full context)
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The exam begins a few minutes behind schedule, made even later by Evans’s insistence that he can’t concentrate with Stephens hovering in the cell. Having overheard this through... (full context)
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Moments later, the Governor hears McLeery reading off the corrections to the exam to Evans: “the fourth word should read goldenen, not goldene; and the whole phrase will therefore read... (full context)
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No longer stationed inside the cell, Stephens now peers through the peephole into Evans’s cell for five seconds every minute (eventually transitioning to every two minutes)—a task he finds... (full context)
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Sometime later, the Governor is startled to hear noise coming from Evans’s cell—the prisoner is asking for permission to drape his blanket over his shoulders. McLeery tersely... (full context)
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At 11:20 A.M., The Governor listens as McLeery informs Evans that there are only five minutes remaining in the exam. With “something still gnaw[ing] away... (full context)
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...the illusion that he had suddenly grown slimmer.” After McLeery has gone, Stephens returns to Evans’s cell to check on him. He feels slightly paranoid—like a TV show he’d seen “about... (full context)
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Stephens peers into Evans’s cell and is met with a horrifying sight: McLeery is slumped in Evans’s chair and... (full context)
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...that the Examinations Board is headquartered there—one of their employees must have been involved in Evans’s escape. He tells Carter to take McLeery with him, since McLeery knows the most about... (full context)
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Turning sharply to Stephens and Jackson, the Governor demands to know who led Evans off the premises; Stephens stutters that it was him, but that the Governor was the... (full context)
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The Governor screams at Jackson for his stupidity. Jackson had searched Evans’s cell for two hours the previous night—and yet, the prisoner had managed to hide a... (full context)
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...to wait for it while they continued their search. Carter also mentions that McLeery spotted Evans near Elsfield Way, and he looked to be heading back to the city. The Governor... (full context)
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...By that afternoon, everyone at Oxford Prison had heard the story: “It had not been Evans, impersonating McLeery, who had walked out; it had been Evans, impersonating McLeery, who had stayed... (full context)
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After a pleasant evening, Evans returns to the Golden Lion Hotel. His new hat hides “the wreckage of his closely... (full context)
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As he climbs the stairs to his room, Evans thinks about how it was such “a jolly good idea” for the fake McLeery to... (full context)
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Luckily, Evans’s friends had left him all the necessary supplies in the getaway car: clothes, soap and... (full context)
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The Governor quietly tells Evans it’s no use trying to escape—he has the place surrounded (he only has two officers... (full context)
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Evans relaxes, knowing he’s been caught and there’s no use fighting it. Evans excitedly tells the... (full context)
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Evans also explains how he knew which Golden Lion Hotel to go to: McLeery had instructed... (full context)
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The Governor asks Evans if he really did understand German all this time, and Evans says he just knew... (full context)
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The two men walk alongside one another down the stairs. The Governor asks how Evans managed to communicate with the outside world—he’s had no visitors or letters. Evans breezily replies... (full context)
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...lobby, a blonde receptionist informs the Governor that the prison van is waiting out front. Evans gives her a wink, and she winks back, which “almost ma[kes] his day.” Outside, a... (full context)
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The Governor says goodbye to Evans as if he were “saying farewell to an old friend after a cocktail party.” Evans... (full context)
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As the prison van merges onto the road, the silent prison officer who had loaded Evans into the van sharply tells the driver to speed up—“It won’t take ‘em long to... (full context)