I succumbed to a bit of a bug last week and was looking for something comforting to read, the book on the reading schedule just didn’t fit the bill so I turned to the tab of books I own, and found this Ruth Rendell book, the twenty-fourth in the Wexford series which sounded just what I needed. There are lessons to be learnt; firstly part of the need to add new books to my shelves despite having more than enough is the fear of being left with nothing to read that fits my mood, buying lots of books has averted that near disaster. Secondly, listing all my books was the right thing to do since No Man’s Nightingale was under a stack of books at the back of a cupboard and I may have succumbed to the temptations of newer shinier books sitting on the shelf where I can see them and forgotten all about this treasure.
So, if asked I would undoubtedly state that I prefer Ruth Rendell’s standalone work to the Wexford series and I prefer her writing as Barbara Vine to both but that is a little bit disingenuous as I am very fond of dear old Wexford, this was the man who shepherded in my crime reading tendencies in early adulthood and having checked out the publication dates he’d already had at least fourteen books published about him by then.
Anyway by the time we get to book number twenty-four Wexford is in retirement, busy hiding from his very loquacious cleaner and reading The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire interspersed with lunch with his daughter and various sedate outings with his wife and the occasional beer with his old partner Mike Burden. The changes to Wexford’s life seem to accurately reflect the change that retirement brings to many a successful man without turning the protagonist into a cliché and some of his thoughts and behaviours made me smile – it is good to have some gentle humour to soften the blow of a murder! And indeed life livens up a little when the local female vicar gets murdered. Mike Burden allows Wexford to view the crime scene and help out at first with clear direction with the investigation. The whole team get busy with yet the motive and the opportunity seem somewhat scarce. Surely the fact that she was a female member of the clergy couldn’t have got her killed? There are also musings that maybe this was a racist attack but Mike Burden doesn’t care about motives – he’s looking with someone with the opportunity.
This isn’t as tautly plotted as some of the earlier books, I got the feeling that Ruth Rendell was accurately reflecting how some of the older generation find the pace of recent change bewildering; how hard it is to be in sync with modern views, especially to do with the subjects touched on in this book, when the old ones have solidified over the years. That isn’t to say there isn’t a mystery and it has a good few red herrings but this isn’t a fast-moving plot and nor does it have the clear psychological bent of many of her books. There were however apart from the familiar ones, some interesting and well-defined characters, plenty of misinformation and the curious new relationship between Mike Burden and his old boss.
This was a satisfying read, all the more so because of course it is the last book in the series, there will be no more Wexford and perhaps that swayed my feelings in a more positive direction, or maybe the familiarity of the characters followed over a quarter of a century meant that although I hadn’t read this particular book before, the rhythm of the language the gentle exploration of themes was comforting.