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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Babes in the Wood. Ruth Rendell. Hutchinson (2002)

A sharp, very bleak and very well constructed murder mystery. Two teenage children and their minder are missing, the parents returned to an empty house and the children's mother is convinced that they have been drowned in the floods that are afflicting the area. All three are strong swimmers and the house is above the floods. The children and their minder remain missing and a search for their bodies in the flood waters is undertaken and does not locate them. The investigation reveals much more than the fate of the children and their minder, it explores, without mercy, the terrible things people do in the name of love. The reveals are well paced, the numerous cast are horribly plausible and the conclusion is suitably savage.
This story has a cold tone to it, none of the cast are particularly sympathetic, Chief Inspector Wexford is competent, effective policeman and a less than competent father. The parents of the missing children are just on the interesting side of appalling and repulsive, the rest of the cast tend to be either self-obsessed, weak or both. It is a considerable tribute to Ruth Rendell's skill as a writer that the book is not unreadable, the cast are vigorous and the story constructed with such skill that the reader is pulled along to see how it will be resolved.
One of the extraordinary aspects to the book is the complete absence of humour, the tone throughout is considered and grave, well matched to the actions,emotions and motives involved in the story. This does not make the story glum or heavy going, humour is simply not required due to the quality of the writing, the necessary shades and contrasts are fully developed in the story. This is steely, first rate writing about crime and humans, grim and fascinating.

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