Not in the Flesh by Ruth Rendell

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Not in the Flesh by Ruth Rendell

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Wexford and Burden are faced with two unidentified bodies - one dead for more than ten years, the other for eight. To make matters worse the people who might be able to help are elderly, dead or dying. Vintage Rendell and highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 372 Date: August 2007
Publisher: Hutchinson
ISBN: 978-0091920593

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A man and his dog were out hunting for truffles when the dog unearthed a human hand. The body, wrapped in a purple cotton sheet, had been there for more than a decade and Chief Inspector Wexford wasn't surprised that the post mortem couldn't tell him the cause of death. All he had to go on was a crack in one of the dead man's ribs. Identification is a major problem. A remarkable number of people - something like 500 a day nationwide - simply disappear. As if this isn't enough he's then faced with another body, found only a few yards away in the cellar of a disused cottage. With two unidentified bodies on their hands Wexford and Inspector Mike Burden are struggling.

Of late the Wexford novels have included a social problem as well as the underlying murder mystery. In the last novel, End in Tears, it was surrogacy. This time Wexford's force becomes involved in the problem of female genital mutilation as practiced by the local Somali community. Ruth Rendell handles the problem sensitively, contrasting the belief of the local ethnic community that what they are doing is the best for their daughters with the fact that it is against the law in this country to perform the operation. As with surrogacy in End in Tears I knew more about the subject when I finished the book and it left me with quite a lot to think about.

Serious as the problem is, it's a distraction for Wexford and his team. Faced with two unidentified bodies and the fact that many of the people who might have information are elderly, dying or dead, their task was never going to be an easy one. It is only coincidence which helps Wexford - something read in a newspaper and the fact that one of his officers has been keeping records of missing people for longer than the normal eight years - which shines any light on the cases. As police procedural novels go this book is excellent. It brings out all the difficulties which the police face and illustrates that they must frequently feel as though they are wading through treacle. Is this a case of one murderer or two murderers? Are the victims connected in any way? There's a diverse and interesting group of possible suspects and sufficient clues to make you wonder why you didn't guess what happened earlier.

As ever with Ruth Rendell, the writing is superb. It's simply and directly written with no literary devices or tricks to distract from the story. But then, with a good, solid plot there is no need of devices and distractions. So far as characters went I felt that Rendell's last book End in Tears was something of a low point with the introduction of Baljinder Bhattacharya and Hannah Goldsmith. The first was a very unconvincing black policeman and the second a policewoman who took political correctness to ridiculous extremes. Bal - now engaged to Hannah - has been transferred to the Met and we see him only in the shadows and Hannah herself has moderated her views. This time she simply made me feel rather reactionary, which strangely enough, was an improvement on very annoyed. This really was a case where less was more.

To produce one good book is an achievement but Ruth Rendell has been delivering Wexford novels for thirty three years and this is the twenty-first book in the series. Each book has been as fresh as the first and the plots have never become formulaic. She's often called the queen of crime and on the basis of this novel I doubt that she'll be handing the crown over for a while.

My thanks go to the publishers for sending this book to The Bookbag.

If you enjoy the police procedural genre then you might like to try something from its king. We can recommend Ian Rankin's The Naming of the Dead - and indeed any of his Rebus novels.

Buy Not in the Flesh by Ruth Rendell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Not in the Flesh by Ruth Rendell at

Buy Not in the Flesh by Ruth Rendell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Not in the Flesh by Ruth Rendell at


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