Police Procedural: Last Seen Wearing by Hillary Waugh (1952)

“She walked out of the dorm and that’s it. She vanished into thin air.”

Lowell Mitchell, a young student of a women’s college in Massachusetts, disappears one fine day. On that day, she had attended her classes but when the lunch break came refused to go to the Mess claiming that she wasn’t feeling well and just wanted to rest. That was the last her friend and room-mate saw of her. When the police are informed about her disappearance, the chief Fred W. Ford, thinks that it is boy-trouble. Along with his subordinates, Burton K. Cameron and Donald C. Lassiter, he starts investigating the boys whom Lowell had dated. However Lowell’s friends and her father tell Ford he is barking up the wrong tree. Lowell wasn’t the kind of girl who would get into such trouble. The distraught father of Lowell even hires a private detective to aid the police and offers a handsome reward for any information on his missing daughter. He also puts in a heart-moving appeal on radio. To no avail though as Lowell remains missing and the investigation starts losing steam. Then a body turns up. Is it of Lowell and if yes, who killed her?

This book has often been described as the police procedural par excellence. And indeed the investigative methods of the police are described in great detail or as Chief Ford tells Cameron:

“Hell, Burt, you know police routine. It’s leg work, leg work, leg work. 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 one hundred more.”

While this is indeed praise worthy, I had guessed the wrong-doer from the person’s first mention and thus it was wearisome to wait for the police to go through all the hardwork and slogging to come to the same conclusion. Also I absolutely hated the berating and bullying of a girl, Mildred, just because she was into a sexual relationship with one of the suspects and wondered whether it was the different socio-economic conditions of Lowell and Mildred, that made the police look at one sympathetically and really mentally torture the other for what was in essence the same thing. [And I am sorry to say this attitude of the police turned me totally unsympathetic towards Lowell though this was certainly not her fault:) but I was already sore at her for causing her family such grief]

The only thing that I found wonderful in the whole investigative work was the clue that first the DA and then the police found in Lowell’s diary.

So no, this didn’t really work for me. In fact, I’d say that Waugh’s other novel, Sleep Long, My Love is a far far better police procedural, almost a superlative one.

Have you read this book? How do you find it?

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First Line: FRIDAY, MARCH 3, 1950

Marilyn Lowell Mitchell, pretty eighteen-year-old freshman at Parker College in Bristol, Massachusetts, attended her noon history class on Friday, March 3, 1950.

First Published: 1952

Other Opinions: Crimepieces; Dead Yesterday; Lesa’s Book Critiques; Past Offences; Pretty Sinister Books

Other books read of the same author: (Among Others) The Shadow Guest

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6 thoughts on “Police Procedural: Last Seen Wearing by Hillary Waugh (1952)

  1. I’m sorry to hear that this one didn’t work well for you, Neeru. If a story is really excellent, I don’t mind it if I guess the murderer quickly (although I do prefer more challenge than that). But I do not like the sort of berating, etc., that you describe. I keep thinking of how much social class matters when it comes to those things. And that, in turn, makes me wonder what would have happened if Lowell and Mildred had been male. I wonder what the police attitude would have been. Sorry if that’s not really relevant, or what you wanted to discuss, but it occurred to me…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. These are some fine points that you make, Margot. I think all over the world boys do get away with certain things that wouldn’t be allowed to girls. And socio-economic factors too play a significant role when it comes to our own responses. That scene with Mildred in the police station was very uncomfortable to read. If you read the book, I’d love to know your reaction to that particular scene.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I liked the book much more than you did—it was arguably the first procedural I read and thought being transported to the 1950s setting was interesting (warts and all). Thanks for recommending the other book which you did like.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with you Christophe. As a time capsule of the 1950s, this is a good book, detailing as it does the attitude of that time as regards sex and education. Perhaps because of all the praise I have heard being showered on it, I expected it to be a spell-binding mystery and since it was not a mystery to me (even a little bit), I began to find it a slog. The other book is really good. If you read it, do let me know how you found it.

      Like

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