Hillary Waugh, last seen

It is sad news that Hillary Waugh has died, on 8 December, aged 88. Hillary Waugh's books were an eye-opener to me, aged about 14. Or, more specifically, his book Last Seen Wearing, which I borrowed from the local library (then my main source of books), probably having run out of their stock of Ian Fleming, Peter O'Donnell, John Gardener's Boysie Oakes series, Len Deighton, etc, to which I graduated after Sherlock Holmes. Last Seen Wearing was one of those books that opens another world that I did not know existed. Following that, I scoured the shelves for any more by the author, which I read when I found them, which was not very often, so I read Last Seen Wearing several more times. I also read many other yellow Gollancz books in the hope of finding similar books, most of which I have forgotten – possibly owing to them not being as good, though Celia Fremlin sticks in my mind as one favourite Gollancz author – and through her I discovered Ruth Rendell's Wexford series (not Gollancz, I think), probably via a blurb recommendation. I missed Sjowall and Wahloo's Martin Beck series, only recently realizing via an introduction to one of the books by Andrew Taylor that they were originally published in English in these distinctive yellow editions (possibly not stocked in my library at the time).

Waugh said: “Authenticity is the key to good mystery writing. Not only must you be able to write well, but you must also possess the instincts of a good reporter who has witnessed firsthand the darker side of human nature.”  Reading Last Seen Wearing made me thirst for more, and I am sure that it is the book that led me to Raymond Chandler, James Hadley Chase, Ross MacDonald and my all-time favourite, Dashiell Hammett.

Oh happy memories! Perfect reading for a teenager in an England that was a very differnt place from its modern, globalized, form. Thank you Hillary Waugh – although your books have, I think, dated (I returned to one some years later and found it predictable) – I owe you a debt for introducing me to this rich genre of writing. As The New York Times tribute puts it:

"Mr. Waugh started out writing private-detective mysteries before he tried his hand at writing a novel that focused on the details of an unfolding police investigation. “I was tired of reading about these superdetectives and a police force composed of a bunch of bumbling idiots,” he told an interviewer in 1990. “I wanted to get away from the neat little corpses with the perfect bullet through the head and instead write a story as it really happened.” “Last Seen Wearing,” his debut effort in this vein, follows a small-town police chief as he inches toward solving the case of a student who disappears from her small college in Massachusetts. Based on an actual case in Bennington, Vt., and on Mr. Waugh’s interviews with detectives, it is regarded as one of the best early police procedurals: a taut, terse, just-the-facts record of crime detection in which no clues are withheld from the reader. “If a single book had to be chosen to show the possibilities of the police novel which are outside most crime fiction, no better example could be found than ‘Last Seen Wearing,’ ” Julian Symons wrote in “Bloody Murder,” his history of the mystery genre. In 1995 the Mystery Writers of America named it one of the top 100 mystery novels of all time."

4 thoughts on “Hillary Waugh, last seen

  1. I had no idea there were yellow Gollancz Crime Fiction books too! I did exactly the same but for Science Fiction – I worked through the entire shelf in our library when a teenager. It was very much a hit and miss experience – with some of them so decidedly and shockingly adult I was careful not to leave them around for my parents to pick up and see what I was reading.
    I’ve not heard of Hillary Waugh – is he related to Auberon?

  2. Ah, you have reminded me of the Gollancz sci fi too, Clare. I read all the sci fi in the library previously (a different one as we moved) – and then have read barely any since. And I do dimly recall that some of them were yellow! I may be confounding two memories here, but I discovered Isaac Asimov’s detective stories via this library reading, and I think they may have been in yellow Gollancz editions.
    No, Hillary Waugh is no relation to the English Waugh family of Evelyn, Auberon, Alec, etc.

  3. Pingback: Academic Mysteries: Margot Kinberg and Hillary Waugh « crimepieces

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