Review

The Babes in the Wood: A Chief Inspector Wexford Mystery

by Ruth Rendell



"It was raining. But as [Chief Inspector Wexford] had remarked to
Burden some four hours before, rain was no longer news ... the
exciting thing worthy of comment was when it wasn't raining."
Residents of the towns and villages were at the mercy of swelling
streams, lakes and ponds that were swollen beyond ... "anything
[that had ever been seen] in this part of Sussex" and no relief was
in sight. The flooding was at disaster level, looting was beginning
to emerge and anxiety rose in stages, as did the waterways.

Wexford and Burden have appeared as a cop-buddy team for years in
Ruth Rendell's police procedurals. They are like an old married
couple comfortable in their knowledge of each other's strong and
weak points, and they have a healthy respect for each other that is
enhanced by trust and affection. Thus, when Burden opened the
office door he said, "I've just heard a crazy thing, thought it
might amuse you. He seated himself on the corner of the desk, a
favorite perch" and reported that a "... woman phoned to say she
and her husband went to Paris for the weekend, leaving their
children with a --- well, a teen-sitter, I suppose. The couple got
back late last night to find the lot gone and naturally she assumes
they've drowned."

"Dade. They are called Giles and Sophia Dade. The teenagers are
fifteen and thirteen, the sitter's in her thirties, they can all
swim" and are not anywhere near the flooded out areas. Joanna Troy,
their mother's friend was the sitter ... "who was spending the
weekend in their house to keep an eye on the two kids." They have
been missing "possibly since Friday evening when the parents
left." Wexford finds this less than amusing and listens as Burden
remarks: "It's pretty bizarre, isn't it?" On his way home, as
Wexford thinks back over the day, he is struck with the realization
that "All this nonsense about floods and drowning had obscured for
him the central issue. Two children, aged fifteen and thirteen,
were missing." Thus begins the case of THE BABES IN THE WOOD, Ruth
Rendell's nineteenth Inspector Wexford mystery novel.

As the investigation slowly moves into action the team begins to
wonder what "really" is going on with this family. The mother is a
neurotic wreck who weeps buckets of tears ... "a woman who would
assume that her children had drowned, just because they weren't
there and part of the town (not even close to their house) was
flooded, had to be --- well, to put it charitably, somewhat
scatterbrained." After a short visit to interview them Burden
reports to Wexford: "She cries all the time. It's weird. It's
pathological." The father is a rude bully and a crude workaholic
who has no time to waste looking for his children, who he says are
obviously missing out of spite ... to torture their parents.

A parallel thread begins to emerge when not too long after the
search for the Dade children and Ms. Troy gets underway, a young
landowner is walking on his property in "Toxborough" which "...
lays Northeast of Kingsmarkham, just over the Kentish border, but
the Sussex side of the Mao." Peter Buxton is proud of his acreage
even though he and his impossible wife rarely spend time upon it:
"Originally intending to retreat there every Friday evening and
return to London on Monday morning, Buxton soon found that ... the
traffic on Fridays after four in the afternoon ... was appalling."
Moreover, their social life in the city was conducted on weekends.
Thus, more than a month had passed since the couple had come to
Passingham Hall.

One of the attractions of the Buxton property is a large "clearing
... the open space in the center of the wood. It was ... to this
clearing" that Peter was making his way, when he noticed "the ruts
a car's tires make were deeply etched into the gravelly earth of
the track." Clearly they were not new and this kind of trespass
infuriated the Buxtons. Peter decided to follow the rutted track up
to the quarry, an ancient and now overgrown chalk deposit where it
was obvious that a vehicle had gone over. A dark blue car lay on
its side but hadn't fully turned over. As he stared in anger and
amazement he slowly became aware of the smell emanating from the
wreck in the quarry.

When Ruth Rendell plans the architecture of her novels, she is
careful to limn the details even as she presents the larger, more
obvious events. In THE BABES IN THE WOOD she has painted a large
canvas with a twisted, suspenseful and totally absorbing tale of
dysfunctional families, children and parents who hate each other,
the venom that destroys relationships rooted in lies and betrayals,
the inscrutable personalities that populate the world and often
make it an unpleasant place. But, at the same time, she balances
this dim view of humanity with the positive dynamics of the Wexford
family, and with the public servants who devote their lives to undo
the damage done by the "dark ones."

Rendell fans will find her latest Wexford addition a great read,
and those new to her work will be able to pick up the series
without any trouble. The series characters have evolved and changed
over the years because she manages to keep pace with the world,
which allows her to bring a fresh, new and more mature ensemble to
each book. One of Rendell's greatest assets is her ability to catch
readers up with her familiar cast without slowing the pace of the
plot or her snappy prose. THE BABES IN THE WOOD is a must for
mystery fans who appreciate fine writing, believable characters and
a well-structured plot.

Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on January 21, 2011

The Babes in the Wood: A Chief Inspector Wexford Mystery
by Ruth Rendell

  • Publication Date: October 12, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 1400034191
  • ISBN-13: 9781400034192