The Babes in the Wood by Ruth Rendell

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The Babes in the Wood by Ruth Rendell

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: The nineteenth Wexford novel sees a more unusual plot than we're used to. For me it wasn't one of her best - but it's still head and shoulders above most other books in the genre and a good read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 323 Date: November 2002
Publisher: Hutchinson
ISBN: 978-0091794460

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A woman phoned the police to say that she and her husband had gone to Paris for the weekend and left their children with what could only be described as a teen sitter. Giles Dade was fifteen and his sister thirteen. When the couple returned home, the sitter, Joanna Troy - a close friend of the wife - and the two children were all missing. So was Joanna Troy's car. There had been a lot of rain that weekend and the River Brede was flooding: a t shirt that's recognisably Sophie's was found on the river bank and the parents assume that the three have drowned. Wexford isn't quite so certain.

It's a confusing case: how could Sophie's t shirt be on the river bank without Sophie inside it? Why would the family have left the house when the conditions outside were so bad? If the three had been abducted, who could be behind it and how could three people - and adult and two healthy teenagers - be forced to do something they didn't want to do? Then Joanna Troy's car was found...

We're used to police procedurals where there might be the odd blip in the progress of the investigation, but essentially the case is solved in pretty short order and the criminals brought to justice. It's a little different here: Wexford and the Crime Management Team hit dead end after dead end. The Dades are convinced that their children are dead and the father is annoyed that the police seem to be making so little headway. Months later and there's still little progress to report - in fact, if anything, what happened on that fateful night has become even more uncertain. As you read you feel the tedium of an investigation which has run out of steam and the investigators struggle to think of a new approach - any new approach.

There's a fascinating side light on the strain that this sort of event puts on relationships: a surprising number, even of those not at the first line of involvement, break down completely. Ruth Rendell is exceptionally good at bringing the psychological pressure off the page and making it real. It's a wide-ranging story, touching on paedophilia and extreme religious beliefs, but it's all handled with great sensitivity. For me this wasn't one of Rendell's best books, but even a book which isn't one of her best is still a great read and head and shoulders above most others in the crime genre.

Rather than read the book I listened to an audio download (which I bought myself) narrated by Nigel Anthony. It is, of course, a real treat to have Reg Wexford's voice sound exactly as it was played by George Baker in the television adaptations. He has Burden's fussiness perfectly too. I was impressed by the range of voices and never in any doubt as to which character was speaking, male or female. Anthony is easy and relaxing to listen to and he's rapidly becoming one of my favourite narrators.

The overarching background plot mainly concerns the lives of Wexford's daughters: if you'd like to read this in order then you really should read the books in chronological order.

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