Ruth Rendell, “The Vault”

We’re getting on in years, Ruth Rendell, Reg Wexford and I. I sort of dropped the ball on the Wexford novels, one of the most consistently satisfying police procedural series. I left Reg out there in Kingsmarkham, his Southern English town plagued by a remarkably high rate of violent crime. I must have missed three or four books in which he applied his humanity and his intuition to the puzzle at hand and solved it entirely plausibly. I missed various developments in his family: his actress daughter Sheila’s marriage, his social-worker daughter Sylvia’s third child. Then when I picked up The Vault, I found that Wexford has retired! Not only that, he’s living in London and walking everywhere has taken off his extra poundage. But he’s at loose ends, doesn’t quite know what to do with his time. So he’s happy to be called in as a “consultant” on a murder that baffles the local force. Beneath a patio behind an expensive house in St. John’s Wood, four bodies have been discovered. Not one can be identified, and while two men and a woman seem to have been interred at roughly the same time, one body is much more recent. The home-owner claims he didn’t know the bodies were there. Where do you even start?

Hence Wexford’s intervention. He has time the legitimate force doesn’t, time to noodle around and talk to the neighbors, to observe and cogitate on his long walks through North London. In some ways he’s coming to resemble my beloved Jean-Pierre Adamsberg of the Fred Vargas novels, but Rendell works in a more naturalistic vein than Vargas. While the latter always includes some supernatural element, and you’re aware at all times that you are reading a suspenseful confection of a tale, Rendell is more matter-of-fact. I think that’s what has always given her creepier books their special weird power.

Despite its title, despite its resolution, The Vault won’t inspire nightmares, or even discomfiting reflections about the dark corners of human nature. It’s just efficient, effective entertainment.

About carolwallace

I spend most of my time writing and reading. Most recent publications: the reissue of "To Marry an English Lord,"one of the inspirations for "Downton Abbey," and the historical novel "Leaving Van Gogh." I am too cranky to belong to a book group but I love the book-blogging community.
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4 Responses to Ruth Rendell, “The Vault”

  1. Alex says:

    I went back to some of the very early Wexford novels earlier this year and I was surprised at how benign they were compared with the current crop of police procedurals. When I first read them they seemed really cutting edge. I did enjoy ‘The Vault’ though, perhaps just because it wasn’t as bloodthirsty and nightmarish as some of the books by younger authors.

  2. carolwallace says:

    I know what you mean, Alex — but some of the non-Wexfords were really disturbing, don’t you think? Especially the ones where you were in the head of the miscreant. Say what you will, RR has a dark imagination…

  3. Lucille says:

    The “won’t-inspire-nightmares” test is an important one for me. I look for a story that presents a challenging puzzle, not something that is going to pull my psyche all of out of shape. Patricia Cornwell’s series with Dr. Scarpetta is not my cup of tea. So I am interested to read your views on The Vault. Of course, I should be working on my own project! But it was a special opportunity to attend your seminar at Politics and Prose last month, and hear your views in person. Following on your suggestion, I just read the first Fred Vargas policier- The Chalk Circle Man. Now Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg has found his way into my circle of favorite characters. So perhaps I should get to know Reg Wexford and The Vault… but then you have written about a number of books worth exploring.

  4. carolwallace says:

    Lucille, how nice to hear from you! Sounds as if we are on the same page in terms of tolerating fictional weirdness; I can’t do grisly either. Rendell can be veeeery creepy, so pick carefully. “The Vault” is not too disturbing but it might be dull to jump into Wexford’s story so far along. You might also look at Tana French’s wonderful Irish books, starting with “In the Woods.” And Susan Hill — also English — is another favorite. Hope you are staying cool enough in our nation’s capital!

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