For a novel which is short by modern detective standards, this has a lot packed into it - at least three stories, consisting of two murderous crimes separated by a decade and linked only by a common dumping-ground for the bodies, and also an unrelated, near-fatal attack on Wexford's daughter Sylvia. Wexford is now based in West London, living in the coach house of his other daughter's home, and it is here that the details of the crimes and their investigation are played out. It might seem a little strained to continue a series by transplanting the central character from his defining milieu to another, but I think here it gives the stories a new lease of life. Wexford no longer has a police rank, and is only invited onto the case as an unpaid 'special adviser,' and as an outsider to London his wide-eyed observation as he walks around the area in which he now lives mean that those of us unfamiliar with the area are brought up to speed without its feeling forced. ('Brought up to speed' - that's a cliche which Wexford would abhor, as in this book he continually winces at the encroachment of management-speak). More so than in some of the other stories in the book, we see things through Wexford's eyes without it being made explicit. For example, here the reader gets a definite sense that we are being treated to the thoughts of an elderly, though never curmudgeonly, observer: 'The house-plants standing around in black ceramic tubs were the kind you can't tell are real or artificial unless you actually touch their leaves.' I zipped through it in fairly short order, and enjoyed it greatly, but something holds me back from giving it a total thumbs-up. For one, the stabbing attack on Sylvia bears no relation to the rest of the novel, except that as she moves into Wexford's own house in Kingsmarkham he's forced to spend more time in London. This episode did have a slight flavour of being inserted to pad out what would otherwise have been a very short story. Then, too, there are one or two grammatical messinesses which should really have been tidied up by an editor, for example: 'a sizeable house, and one which, from its garden, no other house could be seen.' Or am I alone in finding that ugly? Possibly the smallest point of all, but one which niggled a little, I think Ruth Rendell must have a different colour palette to me. We are told about a dog that it is 'Not quite chestnut perhaps, but a rich near-crimson.' This colour is repeated several times in reference to the dog, but crimson? For a dog? Still, things like that won't hold you up much as you read it, and it's a really good, well-written story, which shows Ruth Rendell's continued ability to keep hold of a complicated plot with a large cast of characters.
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