The Vault by Ruth Rendell

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The Vault by Ruth Rendell

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Wexford has retired: is this the end of policing as weknow it? This is a sequel to A Sight for Sore Eyes but reads just as well as a standalone.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: August 2011
Publisher: Hutchinson
ISBN: 978-0091937102

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The unthinkable has happened. Chief Inspector Wexford has retired. He's had a long career as he was already an Inspector when he first appeared in 1964 – perhaps not a good plan if you're looking for longevity in your character – but I doubt that Ruth Rendell could have anticipated quite how popular Reg Wexford would prove to be. And that's what he is now – plain Reg Wexford – with no authority to interview people and no warrant card in his pocket. He and Dora are splitting their time between Kingsmarkham and their daughter's coach house in London, but the novelty of trips here and there soon wears a little thin and Wexford finds himself at something of a loose end.

It's a chance meeting with a former colleague which brings him back into police work – as an unpaid assistant. Detective Superintendent Tom Ede is keen to use Wexford's expertise on a difficult case. The bodies of two men and two women have been found in a coal hole behind Orcadia Cottage in St John's Wood. The bodies of the two men and one of the women have been there for about twelve years, but the other woman has only been dead for about two years. Wexford is intrigued and keen to help.

Keen followers of Rendell's work might be frowning a little at the moment. She's written a sequel for the first time. I worry when authors – particularly crime writers – do sequels as it can mean that there's a shortage of original ideas. Peter Robinson's Chief Inspector Banks series seemed to go downhill when he wrote a sequel. Fortunately there's no sign of that with Wexford, although I do wonder how much further the series can run. If you've read the 1998 (non-Wexford) book A Sight for Sore Eyes you'll find that you know quite a lot of the background to the story but this book also works well as a standalone. If I had to make a call I'd say that you are better coming to this book fresh, but that the earlier book might later prove to be something of a disappointment.

There's all the usual cast of characters – including Mike Burden as an occasional drinking partner on trips back to Kingsmarkham, Dora to keep Wexford in check and daughters Sylvia and Sheila to prove some necessary heartache along the way. The plot is good, but perhaps not as strong or as intriguing if you've read the earlier book. Rendell is always good value, not least because of the quality of her writing and I found it a thoroughly enjoyable read.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

For more London-based fiction from Ruth Rendell we can recommend Portobello.

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