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14th Inspector Wexford Mystery
on 22 February 2004
The Veiled One is Rendell's 14th Inspector Wexford mystery, and as excellent as all the rest. The continued quality of this series is remarkable. There have only been one or two slightly lacklustre books in it, and those were very early on in her career.
One November evening, Wexford drives him from Barringdean Shopping Centre, noticing nothing amiss. He is preoccupied with family matters. precisely, his daughter Sheila who, in protest, has damaged Ministry of Defence Property, the wire fence surrounding a nuclear weapons facility. An actress, her face is automatically splashed across the papers.
Later, at home, Burden phones through with the news: a garotted body has been founding in the Shopping Centre Car Park, hidden between two cars. She is identified as Gwen Robson, a home-help of late middle-age, who lives in Kingsmarkham with her arthritic husband. However, before Wexford himself cna do much investigating, he too faces death, in the form of a politically motiovated car-bomb inteded for his daughter Sheila. So, Mike Burden forges ahead on his own, quickly narrowing in on a suspect, the son of the woman who found the body. But are his intuitions right?
This is probably Rendell's most psychologically rich mystery. Some of the characters are quite odd, and she lays them psychologically bare, creating fascinating and rather unsettling psychological portraits. Indeed, the depth with which she examines her characters in this book is probably unequalled in any other Wexford novel.
Wexford is on excellent form again, and it's often easy to forget quite what a great lead character he is. An aging policeman, increasingly puzzled by the foibles of society - which Rendell highlights with a percision that emphaises the sharp social conscience of this novel - he should, perhaps, be a little dull. But no! For he's actually a interesting, funny, real human being. A relatively gentle policeman who gradually unravels the solutions to the puzzles which confront him. He has a home life which is realistic and entertaining, and he is quite simply very good company.
The Veiled One is not just a rich psychological mystery, but also an excellent puzzle. The investigation shifts and twists, and the solution is singularly surprising. It's an uneasy, disturbing, unusually gripping police-procedural that has distinct echoes of some of Rendell's psychological thrillers, although never strays quite into that territory. It's an excellent book in the series, but I would say that it's not the best Wexford novel for new readers to start with. To appreciate it fully, it helps if you already know the characters well. My advice is to read the very first Wexford mystery, From Doon With Death, and then simply look forward to this one.