AN UNKINDNESS OF RAVENS by Ruth Rendell
Fawcett (September 12, 1986), 352 pages
This is the 13th Inspector Wexford adventure, who with his side-kick Inspector Mike Burden, solves crimes – usually murders – and keeps the citizenry of Sussex, England safe and sound. Although these books are murder mysteries at their core, the author excels - and where she differentiates herself from the “pack” - in painting psychological dramas. The term thriller is a bit overblown, as Rendell’s tales proceed much too slowly for that label. (Not a knock just a description, and enjoyment of this series will depend on a reader’s preference, i.e. adrenaline drenched action versus the cerebral/analytic approach utilized by Wexford/Rendell.)
The author’s books are very reminiscent of the Adam Dalgliesh series by P.D. James – I understand the two authors are buddies – and Rendell has influenced the likes of Minette Walters. Rendell blurs the line between victims and villains, and has an uncanny ability to populate her stories with very real, but also very unpleasant/unlikeable characters. Our two heroes, Wexford and Burden, wade through the damaged psyches of their suspects to solve the crimes, piecing together past history and motives, rather than uncovering inanimate clues, i.e. connecting the dots of fingerprints, ballistics and DNA. And there’s usually a Wexford/Burden personal situation, which one or both of our protagonists is wrestling with while pursuing their police work.
An Unkindness Of Ravens follows this formula when a neighbor of Wexford’s - a “family man” - disappears. Reluctantly our hero begins to investigate – a simple missing person case not being part of his job description nor his preference. Over the ensuing months – the case drags on that long - he uncovers a very tangled web indeed; interviewing and re-interviewing concerned parties, all of whom are more than a little annoying i.e. self-centered, overly-dramatic and/or sullen. In the background side-kick Inspector Burden and his new wife are expecting their first-born – a first class soap-opera in and of itself – and the point of which I missed.
When all is said and done – with a lot more of the former versus the latter - Wexford solves the mystery and Burden becomes a new daddy. I don’t mean to sound overly-critical, but this tale drags on and on – even more so than the past books. Not a bad Wexford addition, just by no means the best.
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