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Road Rage (A Chief Inspector Wexford Mystery) Paperback – 3 Sep 1998
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Nobody has a better ear for the whine of the unloved and unappreciated than Ruth Rendell. Early in this Inspector Wexford adventure, a young woman who was bound and gagged during a robbery demands victim counselling; not long after, families of some people taken hostage quickly cluster themselves into a support group. The titular "road rage" is equally timely and politically correct: protestors have gathered from around the world to stop, by whatever means they can, a new motorway that will cut through some of the woods surrounding Wexford's fictional but endearing village of Kingsmarkham.
"One of the greatest novelists presently at work in our language ... A writer whose work should be read by anyone who either enjoys a brilliant mystery - or distinguished literature" (Scott Turow)
"The most brilliant mystery novelist of our time" (Patricia Cornwell)
"With immaculate control, Ruth Rendell builds a menacing crescendo of tension and horror that keeps you guessing right up to the brilliantly paced finale" (Good Housekeeping)
"Without doubt the most distinguished living writer of crime stories... Ruth Rendell really makes the most of this beautifully-imagined plot" (Birmingham Post)
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Wexford novels now have Issues and the Issue in 'Road Rage' is the destruction of the British countryside and the impact that has on various individuals and organisations. It was written at a time when lots of publicity was being given to environmentalists, tree people and individuals such as Swampy - Rendell has drawn heavily from all of this. Perhaps because the novel has no one central core (like a murder investigation), I found it a little patchy. It takes quite a while to get going, gets interesting and even quite exciting around the kidnapping plot and then it tails off again towards the end. Personally, I don't think that Rendell succeeds in bringing the eccentrics to life in this - the environmentalists are stereotypes and although she is on sturdier ground with her upper middle class characters, they are fairly predictable and dull. Dora Wexford has a substantial role in this novel and I don't mind that - Dora is a very likeable character (more likeable than Wexford's often irritating daughters). Unusually for a Rendell novel, I didn't really believe in the denouement - it just seemed so unlikely that these particular people would be involved in something so brutal for the reasons given and without any regret or thought to the consequences!
I always enjoy Rendell's writing but I don't consider 'Road Rage' to be one of her best.
Its basic storyline revolves around the 1990s 'eco warriors', and some of their more extreme fringes. As always, Ruth Rendell had researched thoroughly, and the descriptions of the 'tree people' are interesting and entertaining. My only criticism is that some of the lunatic fringe border on caricature.
An aspect I liked a lot was how Dora Wexford is portrayed as a strong , resourceful and resilient lady. Also, the genuine love of Wexford for his family is so believable.
Although the story is serious and dark, there is an unexpected addition of comedy- the wonderfully named and portrayed Patsy Panick and her husband; they wouldn't be out of place in Dickens!