Top mysteries challenge review: Last Seen Wearing by Hillary Waugh

Year of publication: 1952
Genre: Mystery, police procedural
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: Massachusetts, USA; March-April 1950

18 year-old Marilyn Lowell Mitchell disappears without trace from her college dormitory and goes missing for 2 weeks before she is found dead. It is only because of some clever comparative forensic work by the town's police chief that her death is ruled a murder and not a suicide. It is then up to the police to dig for clues as to the who and why of her death.

This is a pure police procedural and a very realistic one. The entire investigation is based on solid and diligent searching for clues and evidence and the elimination of suspects. It has the requisite false leads and dead ends, but no real red herrings, because those false leads are quickly revealed as such, instead of dominating the plot for several chapters like they might in a less realistic story.
But this is far from being a mere dry recounting of an investigation, because Waugh knew how to create interesting characters. It is especially Chief Ford and Detective Cameron that come alive, but every character comes across as realistic without too much description. It is in the combination of these factors with humour, pathos and a matter-of-fact storytelling that makes this a great story.

Rating: An excellent and near-perfect police procedural. 4+ stars.

Books left in challenge: 114

For those who have read the book or those who haven't and don't mind spoilers, Wikipedia has a good summary of the plot.


Ruth Ferguson said…
How intersting it must be to read a police story from the 50s. Do you find yourself missing the tech abilties we have today. Also of course it is such a different world and today we think we know so much about how crimes are solved.
Bibliophile said…
Ruth, the forensic techniques used in the story are not fundamentally different from modern methods. The biggest difference is that there was no DNA analysis available at the time of writing, which would have assisted in solving part of the mystery, but hair and fibre analysis is used in the story, and the body of the murder victim is identified using dental records.
If you like reading forensic detective stories I recommend the Dr. Thorndyke short stories by R. Austin Freeman. You'll be amazed at what what forensic methods were available at the time (the earliest story dates back to 1907).

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