Saturday, December 11, 2010

Last Seen Wearing

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 Seen Wearing (Macmillan, 1976).

My objection to reading the first book in Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse series had more to do with my own discomfort with the swaggering, misogynist attitude prevalent in the British police at the time than anything in the plot or its structure. I do often find it hard to separate a work of fiction from the politics of the time in which it was written, especially when, as with something so very sexist in belief, the tone affects the main characters.

Last Seen Wearing, the second book in the series, is a little better on this front, although Morse himself still comes across as quite paternal and petty on occasion. It never overpowers the narrative, however, making this a much more agreeable read. This time out, he's assigned a missing persons case which a recently deceased colleague had been working for more than two years.

There's a lot to like about this story, and Morse himself, who comes across as much more sympathetic and sad, really engaged me. He's every bit as gruff and aggravating as he was in the first novel, but the tone is just slightly different and everything really clicked. What impressed me the most is the neat way that Dexter allows him to be quite confidently wrong several times. It looks like the case is solved and conclusions are written in a manner that most authors would save for the genuine finale of their stories, only to have Morse shown to be completely and thunderously mistaken. I think you'd be gruff and aggravating as well, cast as the lead in a detective novel and expected to be right all the time, only to have your screw-ups hammered home as painfully as Morse gets it here. If you are curious about the character, I'd pass on that first novel and start with this one; it has aged much better and I certainly recommend it for fans of the genre.

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