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I must be getting very tiresome...
on 17 March 2004
...with my continual rantings on the brilliance of Ruth Rendell. In my quest to ascertain that every Ruth Rendell book here is reviewed, though, you'll be hearing more from me yet, I'm afraid.
As I'm lazy, I'm just going to copy out the official blurb (plus, I can't say it any better):
Jack Pertwee was getting married in the morning.
Charlie Hatton drove his lorry eleven hours down from Leeds just to be there. Charlie was Jack's best friend and he would be his best man. When the two parted at the Kingsbrook bridge, jack felt as though his life was just beginning. But for Charlie Hatton, life was about to end.
Detective Chief Inspector Wexford wondered why the fatal Fanshawe car accident kept upsetting his concentration on the Hatton murder. There couldn't be a connection. Fanshawe had been a wealthy stockbroker, Charlie Hatton a cocky little lorry driver with some illegal dealing.
But was it just a coincidence that Hatton had been killed on the day following that of Mrs Fanshawe's regaining consciousness?
On first read, several years ago when I was about 12, this book didn't strike me as one of the greatest Wexford's. On re-reading it, my estimation is much, much improved. The Best Man to Die is another excellent Wexford novel from Rendell's early period. It doesn't have the wonderful, vicious darkness of Wolf to the Slaughter or the unique quality of Some Lie or Some Die, but it remains a very very excellent and clever mystery that will likely confound even the most practiced of crime-fiction readers. It did me, even though I had read it before! I could remember, just about, who, but for the life of me I had no idea why, until Rendell revealed all in one of those excellent last-revelation chapters that she does so so well.
At this point in the series, neither Wexford nor Burden had begun to fully develop quite yet; primarily these early books are plot novels and character foible novels. Still, Wexford is certainly beginning to show hints of how interesting he is, and his family life begins to take on the wonderful life it does later in the series. Here, actually, Wexford seems slightly out-of-character; he's less patient, possibly. Less tolerant perhaps? Certainly, he wasn't quite as warm as in many of the other books, but his skills as a detective are borne out wonderfully in an excellent mystery.
The Best Man to Die (again, one of Rendell's treasures that have been left out of print. I doubt you'll be able to get this anywhere except second-hand) is a great, impeccably written mystery. Rendell dissects her characters motivations marvellously. I would recommend this, of course, very highly indeed, but I don't think it's really the place to begin reading Wexford.