cover image Simisola


Ruth Rendell. Crown Publishers, $23 (327pp) ISBN 978-0-517-70073-0

In her 17th mystery starring Chief Inspector Wexford (after Kissing the Gunner's Daughter), Rendell casts a decidedly baleful eye on changes in the Sussex country town of Kingsmarkham and its people-the appearance of slums, the rise of decidedly fascistic attitudes and growing unemployment and hopelessness among the young. Against this dour backdrop, Raymond Akande, a thriving black doctor, comes to Wexford with a problem: his 22-year-old daughter has disappeared. Wexford, as patient and friend (a somewhat uneasy friend, because a ``decent'' Englishman of his generation cannot quite get used to blacks), feels bound to help. He uncovers a dark train of events: a girl who was apparently the last to see Melanie Akande alive is strangled; the body of another young black woman is found buried in the woods; and a sturdy Nigerian crossing guard is pushed down the stairs in her apartment block. Meanwhile, a flashy Arab lady running for the local council seems to be attempting to ensnare Wexford, and there is a mystery concerning one of her Filipino servants. The events are put together so methodically and believably, while the drawing of character and setting is so exact, that the book seems at times like a contemporary Middlemarch with a murder mystery at the heart of it. The solution is truly astonishing yet as logical as the rest of this splendid, passionately fair-minded and deeply disturbing novel-in which Rendell surpasses even herself. (Sept.)