Wednesday, March 5, 2014

From Doon With Death (Inspector Wexford, #1)From Doon With Death by Ruth Rendell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ruth Rendell's "From Doon With Death" was first published in 1964, so it might have been written exactly 50 years ago. Quite a lot has changed during this half of a century. For one thing, I am no longer in the seventh grade. Also, many things exist now that were unheard of then: cell phones, Internet, and space travel. These are superficial changes, though; a bit deeper changes have occurred elsewhere. And Ms. Rendell's novel provides a splendid illustration of these changes - I guess that the identity of the killer is much easier to figure out now than it used to be in 1964.

Mrs. Parsons, a rather ordinary housewife, is found dead in the woods, strangled. Chief Inspector Wexford and his crew are working to identify the killer. Mysterious love letters are found, and they seem to have a clear connection to the victim. The plot moves swiftly and logically to the conclusion. Yes, I roughly knew who the killer is well before the end of the book. But since I do not read mystery books for the plot, it did not bother me much.

Ms. Rendell writes very well and has a gift for characterizations. Her descriptions of people's looks are sharp and hilarious, for example, "his face lard-coloured like a peeled nut", or "a stupid suspicious face... her expression vacuous and uncomprehending". Even sharper is Ms. Rendell's grasp of social class distinctions in England, and her portrayal of contempt with which members of different social classes treat each other is priceless: "she looked as if she would designate him as 'a person', a creature not far removed from a tradesman, who should know better than to present himself at the front door."

Of course, the novel is quite dated. It does not feel as dated, though, as, for instance, Agatha Christie's work. I am not giving the book a higher rating, despite a clever plot and good writing, because it is just a classical-style mystery, focused on having the reader guess "who has done it". Not my favorite type of book. Readers who are into this type of literature are likely to give this novel a four- or five-star rating.

Three stars.

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