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.)


12 comments:

  1. Love Rendall but lover her Barbara Vine books more....my favorite, The Blood Doctor.

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  2. I've read nearly every Vine novel, and am now working on making my way through the Rendells. I have yet to read a Wexford, though I broke down and bought the first Wexford mystery she wrote. She's ranks as one of my very favorite mystery author up there with Elizabeth George!! Btw--did you see the latest Lynley episodes on PBS in August? I missed them (of course), so am requesting them from Netflix.

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  3. ...And sorry to hear you have no power--I hope it gets fixed soon!

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  4. I hope that you are restored to power soon, Sam, and that you are able to get your house back into shape quickly too. I'm impressed that you have time for reading!

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  5. I hope the whole area has their power restored soon and that the cold front stays until then. At least you can read - during the day. It's so weird to be without all the normal technology.

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  6. I don't remember if I've read a Rendell or not. I hate when that happens.

    Glad to see you've managed to squeeze in a blog post in all the chaos. And I hope the normalcy continues to return.

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  7. Reader23, isn't it amazing that the Barbara Vine books appeal to so many readers more than the ones that Rendell writes under her real name? I doubt that she expected that to happen when she started using the Vine pen name.

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  8. Danielle, I caught one of the new Lynley episodes this week on my local PBS station. The problem was that I was watching on a one-inch screen on my little battery operated TV while the power was out. It was pretty good but I didn't catch the title...not one from the books, I think.

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  9. Ted, after doing the basic cleanup around the place, there was little to do other than read because no stores were open, no restaurants, no gasoline to be had, etc., for several days. The only problem was the short daylight hours and the fact that I had to go back to work three days after the storm. Reading with a tiny booklight is a novelty for about an hour; after that it's a chore.

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  10. Carrie, I'm a tech-nut and I missed having the use of it all. I'm not a big fan of cell phones, but even found myself missing the easy availability to contact the people I wanted to speak with. It was all very, very strange.

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  11. John, Rendell is fairly prolific, so look around and find one that appeals to you; there's bound to be one or two that you'd enjoy because she's all over the map. Check out the Vine novels, too. They're more "psychological suspense" than anything else, I'd say.

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  12. can you help me please? I read this book but I couldn't understand who is murder. can you tell more details? If you help me I will be happy. please help me.

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