Available from Amazon . Published August 2013.
It’s always a pleasure to return to Ruth Rendell. Although I’ve been reading her detective stories for over two decades, she always has something fresh to pull out of the bag. Mind you, she has come a very long way from her first novel and first Wexford story, ‘From Doon With Death’, published in 1964, which featured housewives in suburbia, one of whom ‘dressed for dinner’ every evening at home.
Reg Wexford is also one of the most endearing and enduring detectives, with just the right mixture of familial warmth which never drifts into sentimentality, coupled with a measure of lovable self-consciousness and awkwardness. ‘No Man’s Nightingale’ finds Wexford in retirement, reading Gibbon’s ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’, and his old number two, Mike Burden, promoted into his old job. Frustrated at having no official authority, Wexford worries about treading on Burden’s toes and his conscience agonises excessively over issues which rapidly become insignificant.
The plot concerns the murder of a Sarah Hussein, modern-thinking woman vicar of mixed race and single mother. As there are no obvious suspects, the police – with Wexford’s help – need to trawl through her life to find the culprit. Is it her daughter’s father? Or an ex-boyfriend? A member of her former husband’s family? All of these are dangled tantalisingly in front of the reader. But, as Burden keeps telling Wexford, he isn’t interested in motive. There’s this gardener who had been working a few houses away; he had the opportunity, despite having no connection with the victim. Burden has always been a bit of a stooge, a Dr Watson who comes up with the obvious idea, which is then shot down in flames by Wexford; this strain was particularly apparent in this novel. However, the plot worked, despite being very complex and including human interest issues, such as the romance between the victim’s daughter and Wexford’s grandson and the disapproval of Wexford’s daughter (the boy’s mother).
One of the joys of reading Ruth Rendell is her prose, generally so rounded that you don’t notice it. She writes long fluid sentences, with vivid descriptions – not like this one at all. In fact, she describes to excess, although her descriptions are always interesting. The reader surely doesn’t need to know about every room of every house a character visits? Chapter One begins with a short punchy sentence ‘Maxine was proud of having three jobs.’ , although Maxine was not one of the main characters. Ruth writes in the third person and in the past tense.