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.
It’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.
I 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.