No Man’s Nightingale by Ruth Rendell

Last month I read books from my own shelves for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge (books owned before 1 January 2016) and the 20 Books of Summer Challenge, but then the urge to read other books took over, mainly because I’ve been adding books to my shelves. For the time being I won’t be reading for the Mount TBR Challenge as I have several books that I’ve acquired this year that I want to read first.

One of them is Ruth Rendell’s No Man’s Nightingale.

Blurb:

The woman vicar of St Peter’s Church may not be popular among the community of Kingsmarkham. But it still comes as a profound shock when she is found strangled in her vicarage.

Inspector Wexford is retired, but he retains a relish for solving mysteries especially when they are as close to home as this one is. So when he’s asked whether he will assist on the case, he readily agrees.

But why did the vicar die? And is anyone else in Kingsmarkham in danger? What Wexford doesn’t know is that the killer is far closer than he, or anyone else, thinks.

My thoughts:

I like Wexford, so I was predisposed to like this book (who in my mind looks like George Baker in the TV Wexford series) and I did enjoy it, although not as much as some of her other books.

Maxine Sams has several cleaning jobs, including cleaning for Reg and Dora Wexford – she talks all the time and regales Wexford with stories about her family, interrupting his reading of Gibbons’ Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which she thinks is a holiday guide to Rome. One of Maxine’s clients is the Reverend Sarah Hussain – and it is Maxine who finds her body, lying on the living room floor. She had been strangled.

Wexford, although enjoying his retirement, is pleased when Detective Superintendent Mike Burden asks if he would like to be involved as a consultant in the investigation into Sarah’s murder. It’s interesting to see how Wexford approaches this as he does not agree with Burden’s methods, thinking he has too many team meetings and ignores things Wexford would have concentrated on, nor can he express his opinions openly. And he isn’t sure just what he should or should not report back to Burden. As most of the book is written from Wexford’s point of view we can see how his mind works and the way he views his former colleagues and society in general and I was glad to see that as a retired person he is portrayed with an agile and observant mind.

There are plenty of red herrings and sub-plots that had me wondering as I read. At times it was rather confusing and I noticed a few continuity problems. Various issues are raised, not just the position of the elderly in society, but also questions of race and gender, religious intolerance, rape, single mothers and family relationships. I liked Wexford’s thoughts on The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, his musings on religion – he is a’committed atheist’ ( I don’t remember that from earlier books) and the self-doubt he reveals. I also liked the comic elements as Wexford tries to escape from Maxine’s non-stop chatter.

Overall I enjoyed the book, but think I prefer Ruth Rendell’s standalone books and those she wrote under the name of Barbara Vine.

Put On By Cunning by Ruth Rendell

book cover of </p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>Put On By Cunning </p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>Put On By Cunning, aka in America as Death Notes is another book off my to-be-read shelves, an enjoyable read. It was first published in 1981.

The epigraph indicates just what is to follow:

So shall you hear €¦
Of deaths put on by cunning and forc’d cause;
Fall’n on th’inventors’ heads €“ all this can I
Truly deliver.

Hamlet

It is a tale of great complexity, a tale of murder and conspiracy to murder. A wealthy old man, Sir Manuel Camargue, one of greatest flautists of his time is found dead. Ankle deap in snow he had lost his footing in the dark and slipped into an icy lake and became trapped. His heiress, his daughter Natalie, had only recently been reunited with him after an absence of nineteen years. Although it seems a straight forward death, Camargue’s much younger fiancée, puts doubts in Chief Inspector Wexford’s mind when she tells him that Camargue had said that the woman who presented herself as Natalie was an imposter.

As is Wexford’s way he becomes obsessed with finding the truth and wonders if Camargue’s death was actually murder, despite the Chief Constable’s insistence that he forgets about it as the evidence all points to his death being an accident. Indeed, the verdict of the inquest is ‘Misadventure’. Wexford, however, is persistent in his doubts and convinced Natalie is an imposter, he is determined to investigate, which leads him to both California and France.

There is much I enjoyed in this, the eleventh Wexford book. It begins well, Ruth Rendell sets an excellent scene, and I could easily visualise the locations and characters, with beautiful descriptive passages. Inevitably, as both Wexford and Inspector Burden, begin to unravel the mystery more and more characters are implicated, until it really does seem a complex case becoming even more complicated, with too many coincidences and characters.

I thought that Wexford was keeping far too much to himself – leaving both Burden and me too much in the dark. The ending came as somewhat of an anti-climax as Wexford explained what had really happened and revealed all the false leads. Still, it kept me guessing to the end and I wondered (as I often do) just what clues I had missed along the way.

And now I’m wondering if I could attempt a ‘Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine Reading Challenge’, along the lines of the ‘Agatha  Christie Reading Challenge’, ie to read all her books. I’ve read several already.

Kissing the Gunner's Daughter by Ruth Rendell

I’ve read only a few of Ruth Rendell’s Detective Chief Inspector Wexford books, although I must have watched all the TV dramatisations, with George Baker playing the part of Wexford. The books are set in Kingsmarkham, a fictional English town. The first of these, From Doon with Death, is also her first novel and was published in 1964. The full list of her books is on Fantastic Fiction.

Kissing the Gunner's Daughter

Kissing the Gunner’s Daughter (first published in 1992) is the fifteenth book in the series. It begins with the shooting of Sergeant Martin of Kingsmarkham CID whilst he was standing in a queue at the local bank. This seemed to trigger a chain of more murders as a few months later Wexford and Burden are faced with solving the brutal murders of author Davina Flory, her husband and daughter, shot dead at Tancred House. Only Daisy, her granddaughter survived, and wounded in the shoulder she had crawled to the phone to call for help. Her account of what happened is understandably confused. They had all been eating their dinner when they heard noises of someone upstairs. She only saw one of the intruders:

‘He came in …’ Her voice went dead, automatic machine tones. ‘Davina was still sitting there. She never got up, she just sat there but with her head turned towards the door. He shot her in the head, I think. He shot my mother. I don’t know what I did. It was so terrible, it was like nothing you could imagine, madness, horror, it wasn’t real, only it was – oh, I don’t know … I tried to get on to the floor. I heard the other one getting a car started outside. The one in there, the one with the gun, he shot me and I don’t know, I don’t remember … (page 70)

I had my suspicions quite early on in the book about the murder, but it was only intuition – I couldn’t put my finger on the reason for my thoughts. As I read on I thought I was wrong, as Ruth Rendell added more and more detail, and I was lost in all the red herrings she introduced. But then I began to suspect that I might have been right after all.This is an excellent book, both for the mystery element and for the characterisation, even the lesser characters stand out as real people.

I like Wexford, a detective with a happy marriage, although his relationship with his daughters, especially the younger daughter, Sheila is not so good. He hates her fiancé, author Augustine Casey, and this forms an interesting sub plot in which Rendell expresses her views on literary scene poseurs and post-modernist literature. Casey is an ‘extreme post-modernist‘ who ‘had already written at least one work of fiction without characters.‘ (page 97) Dora says that Casey is a very clever man, perhaps a genius and Wexford responds:

God help us if you’re going to call everyone who was shortlisted for the Booker prize a genius. (page 95)

I did not want to put this book down and just wish that it hadn’t sat unread on my bookshelves for about 20 years (including being hidden away for a few years due to being double shelved). But then I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of reading it now – I think it’s much better than some of Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine’s later books.

A note on the title:

Kissing the Gunner’s Daughter’ is a phrase derived from a tradition in the Royal Navy, as Wexford explains:

It means being flogged. When they were going to flog a man in the Royal Navy they first tied him to a cannon on deck. Kissing the gunner’s daughter was therefore a dangerous enterprise. (page 340)

A dangerous enterprise indeed not only for the victims but also for the culprits, one of whom took enormous risks. (And my intuition proved partly right in the end.)