Book ReviewsBritish authorsCrime and thrillers

Two disappointing crime stories

I’ve always been able to rely on Ruth Rendell in the past when I wanted a good crime yarn on audio; one that wasn’t too complicated that I lost attention on my driving and was rather topical. But its clear that the early novels in the series that feature her ace detective Chief Inspector Wexford and his  work in Kingsmarkham area were as skilful accomplished as the later titles.

Wolf to the Slaughter is the third in the series.  I’m so glad that I read many of the later titles before this one because if this had been my first experience of the series, I wouldn’t have gone back for me.

wolf-to-the-slaughterIt’s about a woman who has vanished. She’s a bit of an odd flighty character living with her avant grade painter brother, both of them forgetful and not much use at domestic activities. Their life revolves around parties. There’s no body and as far as Wexford can discern initially no real crime. But he does have an anonymous letter which is hinting that there is something about this disappearance that warrants his attention. Off he goes with Inspector Burden and a young copper who lets his powers of observation collapse when  he falls in love with a young shop girl. There are the inevitable red herrings before Wexford comes up trumps as we know he always will.

It might sound ok but it was really missing the edginess that I’ve found in her later work. This Wexford is a pale imitation of this older self and it shows. I was happy to get to the end.

undertakerI turned instead to an audio recording from another stalwart of the crime genre –  Margery Allingham – someone whose name I’ve heard for many years but never read. On the basis of More Work for the Undertaker I won’t be disturbing her again and the two books I have in print on my bookshelves can be dispensed to a charity shop. Published in 1948, this features her suave amateur detective Albert Campion who, just before he is about to take up a diplomatic post overseas, agrees to investigate the mysterious goings on at the Palinodes household. These turn into death for two people. Campion takes rooms in the household in order to identify the culprit, working alongside the official police investigation. I hate books with a lot of ‘wacky’ characters. I suppose we were meant to find these delightful in examples of eccentric English figures. I just found them tedious and the story dull. So gave it up as a bad job.


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

16 thoughts on “Two disappointing crime stories

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  • I am a big fan of Ruth Rendell as she was one of my entries to crime fiction novels as an adult and I’m very fond of Wexford. I actually found some of her later books a little less in touch with the modern world than they might have been. To be honest I don’t remember this title so perhaps it didn’t overly impress me either.

  • I had to laugh at your disdain for Allingham’s ‘wacky characters’! Personally I’m rather fond of her Campion novels, but I can see they’re not for everyone. 🙂

  • I’ve only read one Allingham, The White Cottage Mystery, but I liked it a lot. It’s a very slim book, so it might be worth considering should you be minded to give her another try at some point?

  • I read A Wolf to the Slaughter a few years ago and agree it is not Rendell’s best. No where near it. I prefer the standalones anyway, but I did get fonder of Wexford as the series went on.

    • I’ll know now to be more choosy. I also like her standalone titles written as Barbara Vine.

  • I’m not a crime reader so no danger of adding these disappointing reads to my list but hope your next choices put you back on the right path!

  • It’s a long time since I read Rendell, and I wouldn’t say her books were particularly memorable. However, I liked Allingham a lot and re-read The Tiger in the Smoke fairly recently which I thought was great. I have a few on the TBR so I’ll be interested to see how I find them!

    • I don’t find crime fiction memorable generally which is how often i find myself reading a book I read many years earlier. I’ll go an look for Tiger in the Smoke

  • Sorry to hear you didn’t like the Margery Allingham. I read and enjoyed one of her standalones – The White Cottage Mystery – a few years ago and have one of the Albert Campion books on the TBR, though not the one you read. I’ll be interested to see what I think of it, having read your thoughts on this one.

    • Just found an audio version of this that I can get from the library so will explore further. thanks for the recommendation Helen


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