17 July 2007

Book Review: Last Seen Wearing by Colin Dexter

Last Seen Wearing The first death is an accident. But DI Ainley’s getting rear-ended by a Jaguar brings attention back to the case of missing schoolgirl Valerie Taylor. He had gone back to it in his spare time, which the superintendent considers sufficient ground for keeping the case open and handing it on to Morse and Lewis. The latter is convinced that she simply got fed up with Kidlington and ran off to the bright lights of London, but Morse is equally certain she’s dead. Running a murder enquiry without a body proves tricky, producing a wealth of possibilities but not much proof. Though before long they do have a corpse on their hands - just not the one they’re looking for. Between them Morse and Lewis come with one theory after another concerning Valerie’s disappearance and/or murder, and its connection to the more recent death. All are supported by the evidence, yet all are proved wrong. Or is one of them right after all?

I tried. I really tried to work out who the murderer was and what happened to Valerie. But I think that even had my brain not been addled by a stubborn cold I couldn’t have beaten Morse to the solution of this one. Make that solutions; they were all beyond me. But then, I wouldn’t enjoy reading these books so much if they were easy to solve. And reading them, you have to admire the ingenuity of the author as much as that of the characters. Morse is one of my favourite literary grouches, and I had to laugh at the scene where, having read Lewis’s carefully-considered hypothesis, he proceeded to correct the spelling, grammar, and punctuation. A pedant after my own heart; and he shares my horror of spiders, too. But as much as I enjoyed the book, I still got seriously annoyed when Dexter produced one of my pet peeves: untranslated French. Luckily, I recognised enough words to get the gist of most of it, so I didn’t have to go running to the dictionary I keep for such times.

Rating: B+

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776