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Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Best Man to Die. Ruth Rendell. Arrow Books (1969)

A low key crime story with a solid plot, sharply defined cast and a pleasantly nasty undertow. Charlie Hatton is murdered the night before he is due to be the best man at his friend Jack Pertwee's wedding. Charlie Hatton appeared to be always suspiciously free-spending for a truck driver, the investigation into his murder, led by Detective Chief Inspector Wexford, starts with a look at his suspect activities and associates. At the same time the survivor of a fatal car crash regains consciousness. It quickly becomes apparent that the crash is significantly more complicated than had been assumed. Gradually the two incidents intersect and the come together is a credible and satisfying fashion. The story twists nicely, the reveals are well paced and the conclusion is bitterly truthful.
There is a minimum of action in this book, the narrative is propelled by the biting interactions by the cast. There is a powerful thread of restrained anger and resentment pulsing underneath the narrative, the cast are largely in the grip of powerful emotions just held in check. In a sense the book is a period piece, the social context that the cast operate within seems as distant as the moon, Ruth Rendell uses it very purposefully in the book and that ensues that it does not date. The very explicit class structure that the cast are all vividly aware of is an important element in the story.
None of the cast are particularly sympathetic, Ruth Rendell endows all of them with an awkward and vivid life that engages the reader and draws them into the story and the lives of the cast. This gives the book a quietly compelling quality and makes it a very worthwhile read.

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