Sunday, November 28, 2010

Last Bus to Woodstock

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Last Bus to Woodstock (MacMillan, 1975).

A few weeks ago, I was considering just how effective the final Nero Wolfe novel by Rex Stout had been, and considered that it was just about the best finale for a fictional detective in this genre that I'd read. The only other one to have such an entertaining gut punch was the last adventure of Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse. I read most, but not all, of those novels in the 1990s and decided I was due to revisit them.

In Last Bus to Woodstock, Chief Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis - in the books, interestingly, the older of the two - look for the murderer of a young woman found in a pub's parking lot. She was seen hitchhiking with another girl earlier in the evening, and picked up by a driver in a red car. When this man is identified, he admits only that he was on his way to see a mistress, but will not talk further. Morse's theory is that he was actually already planning to meet one of the girls that he picked up, but even if that is true, was he planning to meet the dead girl, or her unidentified companion?

On one hand, I thought this book was a really entertaining tour through several dead ends and false trails, but on the other, it is also a very disagreeable product of its time and attitude. Simply put, the expressions made by the police and the community as to whether Sylvia Kaye "had it coming" or not will probably make your skin crawl. I mentioned several times during my reread of the Nero Wolfe series that one of the most fascinating aspects to following period fiction from a series was viewing the contemporary attitudes on display by the cast, from the casual approach to airline travel to race relations. Certainly, Last Bus to Woodstock is an honest reminder that in 1975, the British police were staffed, top to bottom, with sexist, misogynist assholes. Recommended if you can get past that point.

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