Evans Tries an O-Level


Colin Dexter

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Evans Tries an O-Level Summary

In March, the Secretary of the Examinations Board receives a call from the Governor at Oxford Prison, asking if one of his prisoners can take the final exam in O-level German. James Roderick Evans is a jovial, “congenital kleptomaniac” who’s escaped from various prisons three times, though the Governor is determined to not let that happen at Oxford Prison. The Governor and the Secretary decide that Evans will take the test in his own cell, and that they’ll get a parson to be the proctor.

At 8:45 A.M. one morning in June, Reverend Stuart McLeery makes his way to Oxford Prison, where he’s scheduled to proctor a two-hour exam at 9:15 A.M. When McLeery arrives, the senior prison officer, Jackson, searches his briefcase. The officer is baffled by a strange, partially inflated rubber ring that looks like a child’s pool toy; McLeery irritably explains that it’s a special cushion he sits on because of his hemorrhoid problem. Embarrassed, Jackson apologizes and sends the proctor back to Evans’s cell. After a few more hiccups, the exam finally begins at 9:25 A.M.

The Examinations Board calls the Governor; the Assistant Secretary with a “special responsibility for modern languages” explains that “some fool” forgot to include a correction slip in the envelope with the other exam materials. The Governor wonders if the call is a fake but tells himself he’s being silly. Since Evans’s cell has been bugged, the Governor listens in as McLeery reads out the corrections to Evans. Meanwhile, Stephens peers into the peephole of Evans’s cell every few minutes. At one point, he’s surprised to see a blanket draped over Evans’s shoulders. Stephens wonders if this is the kind of “slight irregularity” he should report, but reasons that it is cold in the prison.

At 11:20 A.M., McLeery informs Evans that there are only five minutes remaining. Two minutes later, Jackson receives a call from the Governor asking for Stephens: Stephens is to escort McLeery out of the prison when the exam is over. When Stephens escorts the man out, he observes that the minister’s Scottish accent seems “broader than ever,” and that he seems thinner than before. Once McLeery is gone, Stephens returns to Evans’s cell—there is McLeery, sprawled out and covered in blood.

Chaos ensues, and the Governor arrives on the scene. McLeery feebly thrusts the German exam into his hand; there, on the last page of the exam, is a “cleverly superimposed” photocopied sheet instructing Evans about how to escape. After having Detective Superintendent Carter take McLeery to the hospital, the Governor berates Stephens for ignorantly letting the criminal go free, but he stutters that he was only following the Governor’s orders. The Governor screams that he never gave Stephen those orders—the call was a fake. The Governor calls the hospital to check up on McLeery, but the hospital says they don’t have any patients named McLeery. Suddenly, the Governor realizes his mistake: “It had not been Evans, impersonating McLeery, who had walked out; it had been Evans, impersonating McLeery, who had stayed in.” Fifteen minutes later, they find the real McLeery gagged and bound at his flat.

After a pleasant dinner, Evans returns to the Golden Lion Hotel. He thinks about how the fake McLeery had worn two of everything (two clerical shirts, two clerical collars, two coats), and Evans had managed to wiggle into his disguise underneath the grey blanket. Evans enters his room and instantly freezes: there, sitting on the bed, is the Governor. Realizing he can’t escape, Evans begins telling the Governor about his scheme. He explains that the most pivotal part was the fake call to Stephens in the last three minutes of the exam, which gave Evans and McLeery time to use the pig’s blood, which was concealed in McLeery’s inflatable rubber ring.

A silent prison officer handcuffs Evans and loads him into a prison van. Evans asks if the Governor knows any other modern languages—he noticed that the prison was offering O-level Italian in September. The Governor says that Evans might not be at Oxford Prison come September; Evans agrees that the Governor might be right. The Governor watches the van pull away.

When the van reaches the main road, the silent prison officer hurriedly unlocks Evans’ handcuffs and snaps at the driver to drive faster, as “It won’t take ‘em long to find out.” In a thick Scottish accent, the driver asks where they should “make for,” and Evans suggests Newbury.