Last Seen Wearing. Best Mysteries of All Time

Last Seen Wearing  Hillary Waugh–1952–Doubleday Crime Club-used

This book is on practically every best mystery list I’ve seen. So, naturally, I didn’t really want it on mine, lol. But, sometimes good is good is good, and can’t be denied. Last Seen Wearing is a police procedural that out does all other police procedurals. Taking place in a fictional Massachusetts college town  young freshman, Marilyn Mitchell, goes missing. However, like every good teenager, she left a diary–back then it was a physical one, not left on a laptop. Police start going through each male’s name listed, and there are many. But most are acquaintances or friends of friends, and although the police check each name, nothing comes to the fore. And this is how the novel unfolds. Every piece of information is gone through with a small toothed comb.(great original point, wasn’t it?) First unlikely male names, such as Winston Churchill are discarded, then people she mentions but once within the diary, then boys she seems to never had contact with, and on and on until they reach those she may have dated.

Systematic is the key to good investigation, and this book has that and them some. Yet somehow, it remains quite fascinating. Speculation springs forth Possibilities abound; she may have been with child and the boyfriend didn’t like this development and killed her, or she ran off. Ideas are turned inside out until the police turn up facts, and her body.

Various people are involved in the investigation including a district attorney ‘who couldn’t find M in the alphabet.’ The main investigator, Frank W. Ford believes from the first time he laid eyes on the missing girl’s photo, that this was a sexual crime. And he never falters in that belief. The manner in which the police break the cause is not earth-shattering, nor is the suspect all that unusual. There aren’t any fantastic twists and turns. Just simple plodding police work that holds the reader riveted until the last page. How a writer can do that with the seemingly boring manner the subject is recounted, is a trade secret of Hillary Waugh’s.

A little interesting fact I didn’t  know until researching this book again for the article–it appears that Waugh used a real case as inspiration for the plot. In 1946 a Bennington College female student vanished while hiking in the Green Mountains. Unlike fiction, that case has never been solved. It did propel Vermont to create a state police force. It is amazing just how many true crime disappearances and murders are never solved. If you went by TV cop and detective shows, and crime fiction novels, you would believe that no murder went unpunished. Especially since the new craze of CSI began. That show has done more damage to the jury system than anything in recent history. Now every juror thinks conclusive minute evidence should be available as to proof of guilt, and if there isn’t any, like in most real life situations, they think the person can’t be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Basically all reason flies out the window.

But my pontificating aside, this book is a must read for any one interested in a good solid how they got them story!

Don’t forget to check out the entire list of Best 100 Mysteries of All Time!