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Cheap English books are a rare beast in my neck of the woods (Switzerland), so weekends will usually find me grubbing around in piles of tatty paperbacks in our local second hand shops. I usually come away with a handful or two, but last week was a particularly poor showing so when I finally spotted this at the bottom of a box, I grabbed it and made my happy way to the till clutching my one franc piece (about 40p). I need to have a regular supply of books to read in the bath i.e. ones that I can drop in occasionally without being too distressed, so I ran my self a bath that evening and started this one.
Whats the story?
Inspector Wexford is worried. His local area is being flooded and the waters are beginning to threaten his house. He makes regular trips back to examine water levels and to discuss with his wife when they should be moving their stuff to other floors. Wexford is continually thwarted in this task by the inconvenience of having to run a missing persons case. Two bright and articulate teenagers and their baby sitter have gone missing, the mother believes that they have been drowned. One of the teenagers was involved in a religious sect, could they have had anything to do with it?
Is it any good?
I was not particularly impressed by this one. I see Ruth Rendell as sort of a mid range crime writer and have watched a couple of her books serialised on the TV but they never had the same level of excitement as, for example, PD James. I was expecting a convincing and exciting read that would pass a few hours, but I was disappointed here.
I nearly didnt even start it as I read the first page and was so unimpressed with the opening paragraphs and the writing style that under normal circumstances I would have consigned this book to the charity pile. As I had just got in a bath the thought of having to climb out and drip my way through the house was unappealing enough for me to plough on.
For me there was an undue focus on the floods which completely envelop the first half of the book; there is only so much that you can say about floods before it becomes repetitive. I would be extremely cross as Wexfords superior at the amount of time he spends thinking, calling or talking about the flooding at the expense of the actual crime investigation. There is no urgency about trying to find the missing children, part of which is due to the dull old crime cliché of the interfering senior officer, but the reader is left to think that it is actually no big deal that two teenagers with no history of trouble just disappear with their thirty year old babysitter, without any seeming problems or bothering to inform their parents. I found it impossible to sympathise with the teenagers parents, a stern forbidding man, who actively resents police involvement in this matter, and a completely overwrought and overwritten hysteric for a mother who I found so grating that I skipped every section involving her. Her concerns for the children at the beginning of the book seem completely at odds with her behaviour at the end, but by the time anything happens, I no longer cared having completely lost any empathy I ever had for this family.
There is a second major subplot revolving around Wexfords own family (so we spend more time at his house looking at the floods), as his daughter, who despite working in a womens refuge is being severely beaten and abused by her new boyfriend. Wexford fails to notice any of the glaring signs and the conclusion of this subplot is not only completely obvious but very unsatisfactorily performed.
There were a couple of twists and turns, but the final denouement was completely unexpected, in a bad way. At this point I was skim reading as I just wanted to know who the murderer was so I could put it down and get on with reading something more interesting.
One thing that irritated me (just the one thing I hear you say?) was that all of the other officers were one-dimensional and served merely as foils to Wexfords brilliance. I dont know whether I have missed out a lot of background by starting so far into the Wexford books (I believe this is the 19th), but I was completely unconvinced and found it hard to differentiate between them all. All of the male officers were referred to by their surnames only, but the female officers are Karen or Lynne, which I found very old fashioned (I have no idea if this is the norm in the police force). The women get all the really boring and monotonous jobs e.g. phoning people up, doing the paperwork and occasionally a little bit of driving. It would have been nice to have a female in a more important role, I know that I would probably have enjoyed the book more if there was an appealing female character (or male character or any appealing character at all), with whom I could identify.
There is a lot more I can say about this book that would be totally negative, so is there anything positive? Well its 383 pages long, so it wont take so long to read. The chapters are short enough to allow it to be picked up and put down easily. Its got quite a nice thrilling cover, its an very easy read and it doesnt really matter if it gets dropped in the bath. I did skim read a lot of it so I may not be entirely fair and it was her umpty-millionth Wexford book, so she may just have got bored with writing about him.
I have read several reviews of other Ruth Rendell books as well as a few for this one and I found that this one is generally agreed to be a dud (I wonder why it was only 40p!), so I wont be put off by this one, she will get a second chance I just need to get this one out of my memory first.
I think I should have followed my first instincts with this one.
RRP is £6.99, Amazon have it for £5.59. Or you could buy a copy from Marketplace for £0.01, there are 292 to choose from.
'I've just heard a crazy thing, thought it might amuse you. You look as though you need cheering up.' Burden seated himself on the corner of the desk, a favourite perch. Wexford thought he was thinner than ever¿