Ruth Rendell is in a class by herself. She left all other mystery writers in the dust years ago. I’ve read nearly all of her fifty-plus books. Her novels written under her Barbara Vine pseudonym are my favorite mysteries ever (A Dark-Adapted Eye, A Fatal Inversion, and, best of all, The House of Stairs).
I admit that I’ve fallen a few books behind, which is why I’ve just gotten to her 2009 Inspector Wexford novel, The Monster in the Box. This is her 22nd in the Wexford series. It might not be quite at the top of my favorites List (Kissing the Gunner’s Daughter probably holds that position) but it has everything a Rendell/Barbara Vine fan has come to expect from her later works–very complex plotting, convoluted time sequencing, and social/class/racial tensions.
The aging Inspector Wexford is in a nostalgic mood, brought on by seeing a man named Eric Targo, whom Wexford suspects of having committed a crime years earlier. Suddenly, Targo is back in Wexford’s life, complicating his present and forcing him to examine his past personal and professional life. Wexford is also drawn into a subplot involving Tamima, a missing Moslem girl (the term Rendell uses). The reader knows that these two stories must be related (this is, after all, a Ruth Rendell book), but it is to Rendell’s credit that she keeps the suspense going until the very end, when Wexford’s past and present collide in a manner that is truly unpredictable, if not somewhat anticlimactic. Suffice to say I didn’t even come close to guessing what actually would happen to Targo and Tamima.
Rendell’s successes place her head and shoulders above her peers. Even a lesser work like The Monster in the Box is good enough to send me back to my “to be read” bookshelf to catch up on the Rendell books I haven’t read. And I see from my trade information that she has two more books scheduled for publication in 2012, so I had better hurry.