Top critical review
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Enjoyable but it has flaws
on 7 November 2012
Although I'm 40 and a prolific reader, this is the first time I've picked up a Ruth Rendell. Perhaps because she's been going so long and I didn't really know where to start and felt beginning with the first Inspector Wexford might prove a bit of a `dated' read. So, I decided to start here - a stand-alone novel, which is then followed by The Vault (I believe this can also be read by itself, but picks up part of the story from A Sight for Sore Eyes).
I must say I'm torn as to how much I enjoyed this book. Did it keep me reading on? Yes. Did I enjoy the writing? Yes. However, I also felt that the tone of voice was somewhat twee, middleclass and dated (and I don't say this as an insult to the middle classes - I fall into that category myself!). At one point, I looked at the publication date and was surprised to see that it's 2011. This novel had the type of narrative inflection I'd assumed the Wexford novels would have. Incredibly middle England and a little bit out of step with real life and the present day. It starts in the 60s, but the two main characters, Francine and Teddy, are supposed to be modern - mobile phones are used; yet the whole feel of the novel is very past-times. I understand that due to both of their personal circumstances, Teddy and Francine have been somewhat isolated from the real world - yet there were times when Teddy (without giving anything away) was incredibly proficient and capable and other times when he was incredibly green; and these two sides just didn't seem to gel. Again, without wanting to reveal the plot itself, I was surprised by the number of `liberties' which seemed to be taken re getting away with a crime, covering it up etc. Rendell, as I've always viewed her, has to be one of the most proficient (and knowledgeable) writers when it comes to police procedure and tying up plot holes. However, I could imagine that if a first-time writer presented this book to an agent or publisher, they would be challenged on quite a few of the story strands. Overall, I get the feel that, maybe, Rendell is the equivalent of a boy band that hasn't moved with the times and is still churning out the same sound 30 years on! She's clearly a talented writer but I do wonder whether more modern, cutting-edge crime thrillers have left her in the shade and she's still turning out the types of novels she started off with. That said, for those who are die-hard fans, this may not be a bad thing.
All this aside though, I enjoyed the book. A lot of it was far-fetched - maybe quite a bit of it should have been challenged or questioned in order to provide a more `authentic' storyline. However, while many readers don't like coincidences in narratives and want things to run exactly as real life would, I am prepared to suspend my disbelief if I'm enjoying a novel. Technically, this wasn't perfect. The writing did feel dated - but I sort of enjoyed that too. I guess I would equate it to sitting down and watching Midsommer Murders or something like that; it's not anything most of us would recognise as feasible, nor does it capture what most people's lives are like - yet it's still good escapism. So, for that reason, I'm giving it three stars and I'll definitely be reading The Vault (and maybe even a Wexford!).