End in Tears by Ruth Rendell
A block of concrete is dropped from a bridge and hits the car in front of the one driven by Amber Marshalson. A passenger in the car is killed. Some weeks later Amber's father finds his daughter bludgeoned to death after a night out and it's obvious to the police that Amber was the real target in the earlier attack. Why would anyone be so determined to kill an eighteen-year-old single mother? Where did Amber get the thousand pounds which she has in her bag and why has she recently been to Frankfurt with an acquaintance who has disappeared?
|End in Tears by Ruth Rendell
|Reviewer: Sue Magee
|Summary: Chief Inspector Wexford is once again partnered with Inspector Mike Burden to solve the mystery of why someone went to a lot of trouble to kill a teenage single mother. The plot is excellent and is well worth reading despite two weak characters.
|Date: October 2005
I've been a fan of Ruth Rendell's Chief Inspector Wexford novels since they first appeared more than a quarter of a century ago. Wexford himself (who must surely be coming up to retirement sometime soon) tries to be politically correct but doesn't always succeed in the finer points. He's certainly not in tune with current trends. He and his wife Dora are shocked to find that their divorced daughter is pregnant, and uncomprehending when they realises that Sylvia is to be a surrogate mother for her ex husband and girl friend. For the first time I thought about surrogacy from the point of view of the grandparents who would be parting with their grandchild.
Inspector Mike Burden was more interesting in his youth when he did occasionally kick over the traces. Now he seems to be little more than a foil for Wexford, albeit a rather well-dressed and modish one. This is the twentieth book in the series and I suspect it wouldn't harm Burden to get a transfer to another force where his abilities could be tested. The books have always been dominated by the middle-class, white male and it's probably to update a long-running series that two new members of the team have been introduced and this was my only problem with the book.
Detective Sergeant Hannah Goldsmith isn't a character; she's a caricature with political correctness taken to awkward extremes. A little would have added depth to the character, fleshed her out, but it was overdone. I couldn't believe that a woman who seemed to worry about whether or not it was politically correct to worry about being politically correct could function as a Detective Sergeant. Frankly she annoyed me and I couldn't relate to her at all. Even less convincing is the new Detective Constable Baljinder Bhattacharya. As the name gives away, he's definitely not white, but the intention seems to be to stress the "just like us really" aspect of race. Personally, I've always felt that we should celebrate, enjoy and appreciate racial differences and I felt that too little was made of a potentially good character.
Once I got over the points about the two new characters I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Essentially it's a book about babies. There's Amber's baby who seems destined to be left with grandparents who make no bones about having no particular feelings for him. He reminds the grandfather of the daughter he's lost and the step-grandmother obviously resents the fact that she'll be the one who has to look after him. Then there's the baby that Sylvia's expecting and the wedge that the baby drives between Wexford and his wife. The background on surrogacy was carefully researched and well-presented. I'd never before thought through the consequences for other members of the family or the feelings of the woman who is to be the mother of the child after it is born. Rendell brings all this out without being heavy-handed.
There have always been comparisons made between P D James' Adam Dalgliesh novels and Ruth Rendell's Wexford series. What takes Rendell head and shoulders above James for me is the clarity of her writing. It is an absolute joy to read and puts me in mind of Agatha Christie at her very best in some of the mid-period Miss Marple stories. She uses simple, easy-to-understand sentence structures and never uses a long word where a short one will do. She has no need to show off and there's none of the self-indulgent padding that you find in the Dalgliesh novels. I don't think there's a superfluous sentence in the book.
The plot is superb and probably one of the best that Rendell has produced. I was so convinced that I knew how the plot would resolve itself that when it seemed to be going in a different direction I reread the preceding chapter to see if I'd missed the exposure of the murderer. When all was finally revealed it was so totally, utterly obvious that I couldn't understand how I'd failed to see the answer. Every one of the clues was there. I'd read them, noted them and completely failed to understand their significance. It was simply brilliant.
Had the characters of Baljinder Bhattacharya and Hannah Goldsmith been better handled I'd have unhesitatingly given the book five stars. The four stars are well-deserved though and the book is definitely recommended.
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