Top critical review
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Good with a super ending
on 18 February 2006
I don’t think this is one of Rendell’s best Wexford novels but it does have a good plot, a diverse cast of characters and some thought-provoking material. If you enjoy Wexford novels then you’ll be missing out if you don’t read this one eventually, but it isn’t one of my favourites. The best part of the book was the ending, which I found to be very surprising and shocking.
This time Wexford is investigating the murder of Elizabeth Nightingale, living a dull, well-off life in the country with her husband Quentin. Their marriage is completely passionless and sexless, but someone reacts violently enough to Elizabeth to murder her on one of her evening walks in the forest. Then along come Detectives Wexford and Burden to crack the case and drag up the psychology behind the characters.
Perhaps one of the reasons why I’m not raving about this novel is because the type of characters shown in it are my least favourite – a wealthy upper class couple, their servants and wealthy, upper class friends. I much prefer a detective novel that focuses on normal people rather than the Master and Mistress of the house and their stereotypical rough and uneducated working class servants. This certainly isn’t a side of England that I recognise anymore and Rendell’s newer Wexford novels reflect this, tending to focus on all different kinds of people in the social scale without being stereotypical. One of my favourite characters was Sean Lovell, whose thwarted ambitions to become a singer were strangely touching, particularly when Wexford overhears him pretending to be a popstar in his shed (we’ve all done it, haven’t we? :-) )
The novel also looks at what it means to be a woman in 1970s Britain. Unfortunately, the females in this novel are probably the weakest characters, such as a housewife who has given up her job to devote herself to her husband who doesn’t really seem to like her anyway and a rather silly Swedish au pair. One of the themes of the book seems to be ‘what makes a good woman?’. What strikes me is that in this book the men act pretty much as they like without anybody commenting on their behaviour, but every aspect of each woman is judged and examined. It made interesting, if frustrating, reading.
Overall, a good book with a brilliant ending. Due to the publication date of this novel (early 70s) it is rather old-fashioned, but the psychology is still relevant.