Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Review of Last Seen Wearing by Colin Dexter (Pan, 1976)

Whilst following up on a cold case involving the disappearance of teenage school girl, Chief Inspector Ainley has died in a traffic accident.  The case is passed to Morse, who is less than enamoured to be given a two year old missing persons file where all the leads seem to have gone dead.  Two days after Ainley’s death, however, a two sentence letter arrives stating that she is alive and well.  Morse doesn’t believe it.  In his head, the letter is a hoax because Valerie Taylor is dead.  She must be after all this time.  Forced to pursue the case, he starts to delve into the live of Valerie, a girl who seemingly liked the company of older men, trying to discover what happened to her.

There are two elements that raise Last Seen Wearing above usual police procedural fare.  The first is the plotting and the second the characterization.  Dexter maps out a wonderfully constructed story of feints and blind alleys as Morse stumbles from one line of reasoning to another, his theories constantly dashed on the rocks of empirical evidence.  Every time it appears he has found a path forward, it turns into a cul-de-sac.  This is not a tale of a genius cop who always finds his quarry, but is rather more Clouseau in his bumbling, much to Lewis’ delight.  Morse and Lewis are both well drawn, somewhat complex and paradoxical characters.  Morse, for example, is both cultured and coarse, buying the Sunday Times and the News of the World as his Sunday papers and dragging Lewis into a strip club on a visit to London.  The support cast of suspects were also nicely realised.  As always, Oxford and its surrounds provide a scenic backdrop. Overall, a very enjoyable read.


4 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Rob - I've always liked the Inspector Morse series and you're right; this one does have some fascinating twists. I'm glad you liked it.

pattinase (abbott) said...

One of the best of the series for sure. I will link to this on Friday, Rob.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

I like the Dexter books and do think thisnk this is amongst the best with its seemingly endless plot reversals. Fascinating also to contrast with the TV adaptation which, while also very good on its own terms, radically re-shaped the narrative even to the extent to changing the identiy of the murderer.

Rob Kitchin said...

I have the DVD of the TV version, so I'll have to watch it again now I've read the book to see how it differs.