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A New Lease Of Death: (A Wexford Case) Paperback – 1 Oct 2009
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"One of the best novelists writing today" (P.D. James)
"Ruth Rendell has quite simply transformed the genre of crime writing. She displays her peerless skill in blending the mundane, commonplace aspects of life with the potent murky impulses of desire and greed, obsession and fear" (Sunday Times)
"Rendell never fails to come up trumps, and her millions of admirers will eagerly consume this offering as they have all the others" (The Irish Times)
"Ruth Rendell's mesmerising capacity to shock, chill and disturb is unmatched" (The Times)
"A firm grasp of social concerns ensure that her novels are reflective of our own times, as well as hugely absorbing" (Louise Welsh The Times)
The second book in the bestselling Detective Chief Inspector Wexford series. Perfect for both collectors and new fans of award-winning crime novelist Ruth Rendell, who has written classic detective fiction and gripping psychological thrillers including End in Tears and Thirteen Steps Down.See all Product description
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This is the second in the Wexford series and very good it is too. There is little overt violence and a great deal of interesting insights into all the characters. The psychological aspects of the murder and its effects on the people concerned are very well done and convincing. I like the police characters and the way Wexford and Burden interact.
I first read this series more than twenty years ago and it has stood the test of time very well indeed and the books bear re-reading.
I actually enjoyed this far more than I thought I would
Other books are firmly rooted in a period: whether by the language, by the characters' preoccupations or by the society they depict. I'm thinking this is one of the main ways in which Dorothy Sayers differs from Dame Agatha ... The reader has to make a bit more effort to get into the mindset of the story. There are other books, though, that require more than a bit of effort: Ruth Rendell's A NEW LEASE OF DEATH fits into this category: the story works within a time and mindset that is very much of the past, but one whose sensibilities are presented in way deeply alienating to the modern reader, oddly much more so than the class-obsessed sensibilities of the Sayers-Wimsey novels. What do I mean? Well, for this story to work, we must accept that having a child out of wedlock is shameful to a paralysing degree. We are also required to identify with a protagonist (Henry Archery, a vicar) who is against his son's marrying the woman he loves, because of something her old dad did (murder an old woman and hang for it).
The Rev Archery tootles about Kingsmarkham trying, not very effectively, to prove the murderer innocent of his crime, because only then will the dear old fusspot sanction the marriage! It's deeply irritating. We have to put up with this wretched man's neurotic struggle to support his son in spite of what his faith tells him is morally unacceptable. I think the problem here is that everyone (Wexford, the son, the young woman) just rolls over and indulges the man's need to KNOW THE TRUTH - and the reader is obliged to indulge this nonsense as well. The obvious hypocrisy is never challenged, is never questioned, is even RESPECTED, even by Wexford, who in later books is something of an iconoclast, bursting pomposity and exposing hypocrisy.
And the ending, without giving anything away, is so very unsatisfying that it made me want to throw the book across the room. I'd seen it coming from about the halfway mark and was disappointed to be proven right. Sentimental and ludicrous.
I am struggling to explain why I'm so cross about this. Agatha Christie used the conceit of nice-chap-worrying-about-new-girlfriend-having-"bad-blood"-because-mum-or-dad-was-a-killer time and time again as a reason for opening old cases (FIVE LITTLE PIGS springs to mind). Maybe Dame Agatha gets away with it because for her books it was only ever a device for kick starting what was going to be a juicy puzzle with a satisfying solution. And A NEW LEASE OF DEATH doesn't offer a decent puzzle, only a wet REsolution.
In conclusion, today's readers are simply a world away from stories that indulge rather than shake up old moralities and hypocrisy. This isn't the same Ruth Rendell who would later write the wonderful A DARK-ADAPTED EYE.
Plus points: it's a nice edition and it's pleasant enough to spend time in Wexford's company. Ultimately, though, it's an opportunity to be thankful for the Rendell oeuvre that came after this odd little book.
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