Sunday, November 29, 2009

A New Lease of Death and Not In the Flesh

by Ruth Rendell
Finished Not in the Flesh November 2009
Finished A New Lease on Death December

I picked up Not In The Flesh in the break room at work. It was a pre-publication copy. After reading it, I wanted to read an early Ruth Rendell/Inspector Wexford novel, so I chose A New Lease on Death which was published in 1967.

In Not In The Flesh, a body is unearthed by a truffle hunting dog. The body has been dead for years and Chief Inspector Wexford and his crew work to put the long dormant puzzle together. A second body is discovered, only to complicate matters. A subplot involving female circumcision only confuses things, but reveals some of Wexford's personality. I like Wexford. He's an old fashioned, calm and serious detective. His officers and detectives respect him as do members of the community.

Ruth Rendell has been writing for a long time and Wexford has been her detective for almost 50 years. She makes almost too much a point of comparing the old-school Wexford and his modern staff. Cell phones, computers, music, political correctness, changes in language are things Wexford must put up with.

Interesting, then, that the Wexford of 1967's Not In The Flesh is portrayed as a maturing detective. He doesn't like the modern design of the new police station. He reminisces about past cases. I suppose that we must suspend some of our disbelief for a detective that has been solving mysteries for four decades. We can't expect him to age naturally throughout the series. It seems, however, that Wexford stays the same while the setting for these stories changes.
Of course, I say this after only reading two novels.

I chose to read A New Lease on Death because I wanted to read an early Wexford mystery. The latter book was so full of 21st Century references and the old school vs the new way of doing tings that I wanted to see what Wexford was like at the beginning. Turns out he was quite a different man. The Chief Inspector of Not In The Flesh is impatient, curmudgeonly and rumpled. He's described as large and unkempt. The latter Wexford is not really described in detail, but I pictured him as distinguished and well dressed, patient and serious.

I suppose I'll try to read one more Wexford novel, for he was not really featured in A New Lease on Death. He simply appears in a few scenes. His so called "sidekick" Michael Burden has more to do in this mystery than the Chief Inspector himself. A clergyman named Archery is the real detective and main character of the story. I wonder if he appears in any future Rendell novels.

I like English mysteries. These two books were both a very good read and were two very different books by Ruth Rendell.

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