Top critical review
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on 3 September 2013
I have always enjoyed Ruth Rendell's Inspector Wexford novels and the dynamic between Wexford and his friend and sidekick Mike Burdon. One of the most entertaining aspects of these books for me is the ever evolving lives of Wexford and Burden's families. I was, however, very disappointed in Wexford's last two outings i.e. The Monster in the Box and The Vault (which related back to a much earlier novel, A Sight for Sore Eyes). Therefore it was with some trepidation that I decided to buy the latest Inspector Wexford novel but I was pleasantly surprised. While not quite as good as her earliest efforts, No Man's Nightingale is a return to form for Ms. Rendell.
Briefly, Sarah Hussein, a female vicar of mixed parentage who is also a single mother with a teenage daughter, is discovered strangled in the Vicarage, by garrulous cleaner Maxine Sams who works for both Reg and Dora Wexford and Dr. and Mrs. Crocker; while this might bring to mind Agatha Christie's Murder in the Vicarage, there is little, if any, similarity between the two novels. Wexford is quite recently retired and when his friend Burden, now leading the murder inquiry, asks if he might like to assist with the case as an unpaid adviser, Wexford jumps at the chance. Wexford's love of puzzle-solving and his genuine curiosity about people is a decided advantage as he accompanies official police officers in their investigations.
It is true that Wexford does wattle his "unofficial role" to death in his musings but while irritating, this is probably quite realistic as I would imagine anyone in his situation would realize the precariousness of their position and have the unofficial nature of their brief constantly in mind. I found Maxine's malapropisms less convincing and more annoying as, while I have come across people like Mrs. Malaprop, I found the examples in this novel a bit hard to swallow. For example, "anonimal" letters instead of annonymous letters and "ceasers" for seizures and this from a lady who in practically the same sentence has used the word "contusion" for bruise. I have to say that this did not quite ring true with me.
Yet this is just a minor personal quibble and overall the book is a most enjoyable read as even though I found the ending somewhat disappointing I certainly enjoyed the journey to the denouément and that for me is often the most important element of the reading experience. As one has come to expect with Ms. Rendell, the writing is wonderfully clear and concise and the characterisation tight with the result I savoured every word. As with other Wexford stories I found Reg's reading choice i.e., Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, interesting.
This is not germane to the review of No Man's Nightingale, but my favourite Ruth Rendell novel is a stand alone story which does not feature Wexford and is entitled A Judgement in Stone; this book is a veritable gem written many years ago and the most perfect example of a psychological thriller I have ever read - not a whodunnit but more of a whydunnit.