NOT IN THE FLESH by Ruth Rendell

Book Quote:

“My husband said that we must move him, we couldn’t leave him there. You see Ronald had shot him.  No one would have believed it was self-defense.”

You might have put it to the test, Wexford thought.  You might have decided late in the day that honesty is the best policy. What a catalog of folly all this was — yet he believed it.

Book Review:

Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky (JUL 25, 2009)

Ruth Rendell’s Not in the Flesh deals with buried skeletons, both the physical and the metaphorical kind. Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford and his Detective Sergeant, Hannah Goldsmith, report to Old Grimble’s Field in Flagford when an elderly man and his dog come upon an old set of remains. Nothing is found with the body to indicate the man’s name, place of residence, occupation, or cause of death. However, since the victim was wrapped in a sheet before being buried, it seems apparent that he was murdered and then concealed to avoid discovery. Wexford and his team interview the area’s residents, but it is a tedious business, and they emerge with very little to show for their efforts. The mystery deepens when Inspector Burden and DC Damon Coleman discover a second body hidden under a woodpile in the cellar of Sunnybank, an abandoned bungalow on the Grimble property.

Two possible witnesses prove to be particularly irascible and maddening. One is fifty-year old John Grimble, “a bad-tempered bugger” who, for many years, has been obsessively ranting about the planning authority’s refusal to grant him permission to use his late stepfather’s land to build multiple homes. The other is eighty-four year old Irene McNeil, who had kept watch over the Grimble place when she lived nearby with her late husband, Ronald. Irene is a self-absorbed snob, as well as a racist and a congenital liar; Wexford has his hands full trying to maintain a gentlemanly demeanor while dealing with this infuriating woman. Another person who may be able to shed light on the crimes lives next door to the Grimbles. He is Owen Tredown, an author who is dying of liver cancer. In an unconventional arrangement, Tredown resides with his current wife, an icy and off-putting woman named Maeve, and his ex-wife, Claudia Ricardo, who is flighty and prone to embarrassing revelations. The two women appear to get along better than one would expect, but there is nonetheless something undeniably creepy about the whole arrangement.

Identifying the two sets of remains proves to be no mean feat, and the reader must slog through a multitude of dead ends and red herrings before the truth finally emerges. However, this labor-intensive investigation lends verisimilitude to the proceedings, showing just how many pieces of evidence and false leads the detectives must sift through before they achieve that elusive breakthrough. A little luck doesn’t hurt, either. In addition, Rendell includes a subplot about racism in England and the horrifying practice of female genital mutilation that is still practiced in certain cultures. In Kingsmarkham, where Wexford lives with his wife, Dora, there is a close-knit community of immigrants from Somalia. Although most of the Somalis are quiet, hard-working, and law-abiding, some of their neighbors are not comfortable with their presence. Wexford’s daughter, who is a social activist, asks her father to prevent a five-year old Somali girl from being “circumcised.” Although this is an important and timely topic, it seems tacked on to the story and does not mesh well with the rest of novel.

The vivid characters take center stage here. As she has done for decades, Rendell trains her gimlet eye on the frailties, foibles, and self-destructive tendencies that lead human beings to behave perversely. Greed, pride, stubbornness, rationalization, and stupidity are all on glorious display here. Seldom in a Rendell book do you meet characters who are kind and altruistic. The author has made a career of studying the dark and decayed roots of emotionally disturbed people; no one does it better. She also examines family relationships in all of their tortured complexity, and poignantly observes how sad it is for the people left behind when loved ones go missing. Rendell’s fine descriptive writing, sharp dialogue, and dry humor more than make up for the fussy and complicated plot, with its unlikely coincidences and far-fetched elements.

Inspector Wexford is the novel’s moral center, acting as a one-man Greek chorus. He is compassionate, philosophical, psychologically astute, and a human lie detector. His years of experience prove to be as valuable as the marvels of the Internet, which he disdains as “more trouble than it was worth.” Wexford is a natural leader, an advocate for the underdog, and a tireless pursuer of justice. He and his able colleagues serve as a counterbalance to the shameful actions of the novel’s villains. When someone suggests that catching a killer after he has done away with someone doesn’t matter that much, Wexford strongly disagrees: “You’re wrong there. It matters….Killing is the worst thing anyone can do and society needs to punish the perpetrator of such a crime for its own well-being.” In a world filled with duplicity, we need people like Chief Inspector Wexford to balance the scales.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 48 readers
PUBLISHER: Vintage; Reprint edition (June 2, 2009)
REVIEWER: Eleanor Bukowsky
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Ruth Rendell
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read a review of the first Insp. Wexford in this long series:

and the lastest:

And some of Rendell’s outstanding stand-alone novels:

Also, some of her books written as Barbara Vine


Inspector Wexford Mysteries:

Standalone Mysteries & Psychological Thrillers:


Movies from books:

July 25, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Sleuths Series, United Kingdom, y Award Winning Author

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