Last seen wearing her school uniform, Valerie Taylor disappeared a little over two years ago on her way back to her school in a small town near Oxford after having eaten lunch at home. Seventeen and very well-developed, Valerie had a taste for older men and after her parents reported her missing, Valerie was never seen again and her body was never found.
The police detective originally assigned to the case has continued to work it periodically, even though what little trail there was has long since gone cold. He may have turned up a new lead, but before he could report back to his superiors, the detective was killed in an auto accident, and only a few days later, Valerie’s parents receive a letter, allegedly from their missing daughter, saying only that she is still alive and well and that her parents should not worry about her.
The Superintendent now assigns the case to Chief Inspector Morse. Morse, whose principal interest is homicide, has no interest whatsoever in pursuing the case of a missing person. But he quickly convinces himself that, letter or no letter, Valerie Taylor has long since been dead and he sets himself to the task of finding her killer, assisted by his faithful sidekick, Sergeant Lewis.
It won’t be an easy job. There’s no physical evidence of any kind, especially after so much time has passed, and Morse quickly discovers that the people closest to Valerie may all have their reasons for wishing that the case would stay unresolved. Morse will be forced to formulate and discard any number of theories and as he turns up the heat, someone else will have to die so that the secret of what happened to Valerie Taylor will remain a mystery. It’s a tangled mess and only someone as clever and as unconventional as Morse will have a chance of resolving the mystery. Chief Inspector Morse is one of the most unique and compelling characters in British crime fiction, and it’s always fun to spend an afternoon watching him work.
I do have one minor nit to pick which is that, as the climax nears, Morse completely overlooks a major clue that is literally right in front of his face. As he struggles to make sense of something that seems to make no sense, the reader is left to holler at him to pay attention to what he’s seen with his own eyes. If he doesn’t snap to by the end of the book, the reader will be left knowing the solution while Morse is still at sea. Still, this is a minor quibble and Last Seen Wearing is a very enjoyable read.