A murder investigation

2008-10-02 08:05

To pick up a new Ruth Rendell - and especially one in her series of Wexford detections - is to experience a kind of “phew”, the sense of coming home. Her characters, including Chief Inspector Wexford, Inspector Burden, their wives and families and the other members of the Kingsmarkham Police Force, are familiar friends, warm, human, likeable, believable. Her plotting and pace are immaculate, her style easy, yet assured - no awkwardness, no carelessness, no cheap tricks. And always there's something fresh and interesting as, here, where a body buried in a wood is discovered by a man using a dog (not a pig) to search for truffles. Wrapped in a purple cotton sheet, the dead man has been there for about 10 years: the only clue to his identity is a crack in one of the ribs.

Some 500 men, women and children disappear every day across Britain, and Wexford knows it's going to be tough to make a precise identification of this 10-year-old corpse - until another body is found a mere 20 metres away from the first one. Are the murders connected? And if so, what is it - or who is it - that links them? And, since the first body was buried in a drainage channel, filled in after planning permission had been refused a would-be developer of the land, have they anything to do with the controversy over that proposed development?

The investigation is as thorough and as satisfying - introducing on the way some interesting characters and some insights into life of a decade ago - as can be expected from Rendell. Interwoven with it is another, more topical problem relating to the matter of genital mutilation or female circumcision, legally prohibited in Britain but still surreptitiously practised in certain ethnic communities. Rendell's treatment of this subject via an immigrant family seeking to sidestep the law and have their young daughter circumcised is sensitive and its approach is broader and rather more humane and understanding than the blanket condemnation (“It's barbaric, it's disgusting, it's cruel, it must be stopped”) favoured by most Western activists.

As always, Rendell provides us with a thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable read.

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