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"I was tired of reading about these super-detectives and a police force composed of a bunch of bumbling idiots," Waugh told The New York Times in 1990.

"I wanted to get away from the neat little corpses with the perfect bullet through the head, and instead write a story as it really happened." -Hillary Waugh, -OBIT: Hillary Waugh (AP)


When I was a kid, living in Northern New jersey with divorced parents, we spent a lot of time staying with our grandparents in Brooklyn. The Grandfather Judd had a library mainly stocked with legal tomes and the Grandmother read mainly romance novels. But there was one other option for the bookish: mysteries; mostly the 3-in-1 volumes from the Detective Book Club with some Agatha Christie's and 87th Precinct stand-alone's mixed in. Poirot was a tad too staid for my juvenile tastes, but I loved Ed McBain and for the longest time I thought he had created the police procedural. But the author who is given credit nowadays is Hilary Waught with his archetypal Last Seen Wearing, published in 1952

In this surprisingly modern mystery, an 18-year-old coed goes missing from her small college dorm (modeled on his wife's alma mater, Smith). Frank Ford is the crusty but dedicated Chief of Police who works the case obsessively, operating from a theory that she was impregnated and forced into an illegal abortion. When her diary is discovered he reads it cover to cover and develops a list of 47 men she had contact with and the local doctors who perform abortions then checks them all out thoroughly to determine who was responsible. His college-educated Sergeant, Burton Cameron, doesn't buy the abortion theory, and besides this source of tension, Ford seems to bristle at the difference between the education levels between them. When Cameron questions how they're using their time, the Chief explains his method in a manner that defines the genre:
Burt, you know police routine. It's legwork, legwork, legwork. It's covering every angle. It's sifting a ton of sand for a grain of gold. It's talking to a hundred people and getting nowhere and then going out and talking to a hundred more.

Sure enough, it is this dogged technique that leads them to the killer and that launched some of the best-selling detective series of all time, not to mention myriad tv series and films. Waugh deserves credit for his realization that readers (viewers) would find this sort of workmanlike investigation by every day policemen as entertaining as any story about their brilliant but idiosyncratic fictional rivals. Indeed, today Harry Bosch is Ford's successor and the star of a hit Amazon series as well as a decades long string of bestsellers. And while we are still inundated with different versions of Sherlock Holmes, pretty nearly the only Hercule Poirot variant we've had lately was Benoit Blanc in Knives Out.

This little masterpiece is, thus, not only a terrific read in its own right but essential for its historical import.


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A+)


Websites:

See also:

Mystery
Hillary Waugh Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Hillary Waugh
    -WIKIPEDIA: Last Seen Wearing...
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Hillary Waugh (IMDB)
    -OBIT: Hillary Waugh: Pioneer of the police procedural novel (Michael Carlson, 10 Mar 2009, The Guardian)
    -OBIT: Hillary Waugh (Times of London, 3/18/19)
    -OBIT: Hillary Waugh (AP)
"I was tired of reading about these super-detectives and a police force composed of a bunch of bumbling idiots," Waugh told The New York Times in 1990.

"I wanted to get away from the neat little corpses with the perfect bullet through the head, and instead write a story as it really happened."

    -OBIT: Hillary Waugh, Prolific Mystery Author, Dies at 88 (William Grimes, 12/27/08, NY Times)
    -OBIT: Hillary Waugh (The Telegraph, 1/06/09)
    -PROFILE: Invisible Ink: No 107 - Hillary Waugh (Christopher Fowler, 22 January 2012, The Independent)
    -ENTRY: Hillary Baldwin Waugh: American writer (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -OBIT: Prolific mystery writer Hillary Waugh (STEPHANIE REITZ, December 28, 2008, Seattle Times)
    -ESSAY: Hillary Waugh (eNotes)
    -ESSAY: What Is a Police Procedural? (Otto Penzler, 5/10/18, Crime Reads)
    -ESSAY: Finding the Key: Detective Fiction for the Developmental Reader (Pamela M. Price-Anisman, Yale National Initiative)
    -INDEX: Hillary Waugh (Stop, You're Killing Me!)
    -REVIEW: of Last seen wearing... by Hillary Waugh (Dead Yesterday)
    -REVIEW: of Last Seen Wearing... (JF Norris, Pretty Sinister Books)
    -REVIEW: of Last Seen wearing... (Past Offences)
    -REVIEW: of Last Seen Wearing... (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Last Seen Wearing... (Reading in Reykjav√≠k )
    -REVIEW: of Last Seen wearing... (Sarah, Crime Pieces)
    -REVIEW: of A Death in a Small Town by Hillary Waugh (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Pure Poison (1966), by Hillary Waugh (Passing Tramp)

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