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End in Tears - Ruth Rendell
Member Name: sunmeilan
End in Tears - Ruth Rendell
Advantages: It's Wexford, good story
Disadvantages: Lots of red herrings, unrealistic
George Marshalson loves his eighteen year old daughter, Amber, dearly, although she hasn't always been the easiest of daughters since the death of his wife at an early age and his subsequent remarriage. When he finds her body just a short walk from his house early one morning, he is devastated. Another family is to be just as devastated when a second girl, Megan, is found dead and, as she was friends with Amber, it is obvious that the two deaths are linked somehow. As Chief Inspector Wexford begins to investigate, it soon becomes clear that Amber and Megan were involved in something less than sanitary. Nevertheless, although there are plenty of suspects, there is no proof that any of them committed the murders and the months begin to tick by. Can Wexford get to the bottom of the case, while coping with his own daughter's decision to have a baby for her ex and his new girlfriend?
Ruth Rendell is an author who can be very touch and go. Some of her books are brilliant; others are decidedly ropey. Her best work is usually saved for the Wexford series and thankfully, this is no exception. Chief Inspector Wexford is a great character. He is a family man, without the usual baggage that so many fictional detectives have - he doesn't have women problems and he's not a big drinker. His only vices are good food and the occasional bout of sarcasm. In each book, he has a family 'crisis' to deal with, and this one is no different. His daughter, Sylvia, is pregnant with her ex's baby, that she is planning to carry and then give up for him and his childless girlfriend. Wexford and his wife are deeply upset, believing that Sylvia is not making the right decision; the situation is all the more poignant because Amber and Megan were pregnant when they died, which could be connected to the case.
Wexford's sidekick, Inspector Burden is another great character, although he unfortunately doesn't feature all that much in this book. He is very strait-laced, although he too has children, and is often disapproving of the state that the murder victims find themselves in. His background is very interesting and it's just a shame that we aren't really given an update to it here. However, there are a number of other younger officers who come to the fore here, one of whom plays a major role in the breaking of the case. Much as I like Wexford and Burden, Rendell has done the right thing to start introducing some fresh blood into the series - after all, murder investigations do involve much more than just a couple of detectives.
The plot is a good one; there are a number of suspects and information is drip-fed to the reader slowly during the course of the book so that the pacing is even and there is never time to get bored. There are perhaps too many red herrings, which make the story a lot longer than it needs to be, and at times, it becomes difficult to follow who is who - there are just so many characters and it is hard to remember exactly what role they play without skipping back a couple of chapters. A list of the main characters and a brief introduction to their role in the book would have been really useful just to prevent the constant back-skipping. However, on the whole, it is a well-crafted piece of crime fiction and is actually a lot less complicated than some of her other Wexford novels.
One criticism I have of the book is that it is becoming more and more clear that Rendel is aging and has a different outlook on detection compared to her younger colleagues. This is obviously a very natural thing; however, there is constantly a feeling that she really doesn't know very much about technology and its role in solving crime. Everything seems to come down to old-fashioned detecting; Wexford even seems to frown upon using the Internet to gain information, even when it would be the most time-efficient way of finding it. In some ways, this is good, because the concentration is on the interactions between the characters and the police, who are forced to use creative thinking to solve the crime. However, it also makes the book feel unrealistic in this day and age, especially compared to authors such as Peter James, who are really up on their technology.
I'm not the biggest fan of Rendell's writing style. It can be incredibly sloppy at times, as though her editor hasn't done a proper job. This particular book isn't too bad, although some of the sub-plots could have been streamlined a little more than they were. Rendell does enough to tell the story, but no more, and there are certainly much better and more consistent writers out there. Ultimately, though, most people reading this genre will not be looking for a good piece of literature - they just want a good story that keeps them turning the pages, and from that point of view, Rendell does deliver. Sometimes though, the writing style between the Wexford series and Rendell's stand-alone novels is so different that I wonder if she has a ghost-writer. Obviously, I have no evidence to suggest that is true, but it is often hard to believe that it is the same author.
For fans of the Wexford novels, this twentieth novel in the series is a must-read. However, it will also appeal to those who are new to the series, although there is definitely an advantage to reading the books in order - just to get to grips with Wexford and Burden and their back stories. The book is certainly a page-turner and the minor quibbles I have can easily be forgiven. And there is a lot to be said for the fact that this series has been going on for so many years now and yet Rendell is still able to come up with a fairly original storyline. It's definitely worth a read if crime fiction is your thing. Recommended.
The book is available from Amazon for £3.96. Published by Arrow Books, it has 384 pages. ISBN-10: 0099491141
Summary: A good Wexford story