Thursday, September 18, 2008

Not in the Flesh

I have been a fan of Ruth Rendell novels for more than three decades but her Wexford novels have never been my favorite Rendell books. Nevertheless, I have read each and every one of them and have found them to be consistently high-quality police procedurals always worth my reading time. Not in the Flesh, the twenty-first Wexford novel, does remind me that I generally enjoy Rendell’s standalone novels and her Barbara Vine novels more but, as always, this latest one is a welcome addition to the Wexford saga.

It all started when Jim Belbury and his truffle-sniffing dog found more than they were looking for on one of their regular attempts to put a few extra pounds into Belbury’s pockets. Jim knew that the dog had a real talent for unearthing the valuable truffles so he encouraged his dog to keep at it after it began digging in a likely spot. Unfortunately for Jim, rather than a large truffle, the dog came away with what was left of a human hand that had been buried in that particular spot.

When Inspector Wexford learns that the recovered body has been in the ground for some eleven years, Wexford and his team settle in for some old-fashioned police work and begin to interview everyone living in the vicinity of the crime scene. Matters get complicated when a second body is found within a stone’s throw of where the first was recovered. The second victim seems to have only been dead for eight years but Wexford does not believe in coincidence and is convinced that the two deaths have to be related in some way.

Rendell provides an array of characters from various levels of British society for Wexford and the Kingsmarkham police force to interview and it is through a long series of interviews that provide a series of interconnecting clues that the case is eventually solved. Some readers will solve the case before Wexford does but, after all, that can be part of the fun, and no mystery writer should be faulted for letting that happen.

Not in the Flesh has a subplot of sorts that offers Rendell the opportunity to explore the horrors of the genital mutilation suffered by countless young African girls, including those whose families have immigrated to Britain. Wexford, partially at the request of one of his daughters, spends some of his precious time trying to prevent just that horror from happening to a young girl whom everyone expects will soon be taken out of the country to suffer the process. It is a somewhat interesting subplot, particularly in the way that it explores the limitations faced by the British legal system in protecting potential victims but, ultimately, it is somewhat of a distraction.

Ruth Rendell fans will not be disappointed in Not in the Flesh, but first-timers might wonder a bit what all the fuss about the Wexford series is if they stop with this one. That said, I will definitely be reading the next offering from Rendell, whether it be another Wexford novel, one of her standalones, or something written under the Barbara Vine pen name.

(I still have no power at home but thank goodness for free wifi that is starting to come back up in spots around the area. I wanted to post this while I had a moment as a way of just generally checking back in.)

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