Chief Inspector Wexford has been on duty since 1964's FROM DOON
WITH DEATH and his adventures, penned by Ruth Rendell, are among
the most acclaimed mystery novels of the last four decades. Rendell
has created a thorny puzzle for her hero in the latest series
entry, END IN TEARS. Wexford and Rendell are in fine form.
One question --- who killed young mother Amber Marshalson? ---
leads to a series of related mysteries that frustrates Wexford and
his team. Meanwhile, Wexford confronts a familial controversy that
threatens his relationship with his wife and daughter. A burgeoning
relationship between two members of the investigative team provides
the novel's other key subplot.
That secondary story highlights one of the book's major concerns:
the intersection of different moral worldviews. Cultural,
generational and gender differences fuel a host of conflicts
throughout the book, but Rendell turns many a stereotype on its
ear, particularly in the romance between Detective Sergeant Hannah
Goldsmith --- who seems determined to put all the conventions of
the past firmly behind her --- and Detective Constable Bal
Bhattacharya, who is equally determined to slow down the pace of
the modern relationship.
Hannah's quest to rid herself of old ways of thinking provides much
of the book's comic relief:
"The occupant of number one was a horror. Hannah knew she shouldn't
be ageist, but really there were limits. She realized she had an
irrational dislike of old men. Not old people, only men. This
prejudice shouldn't be allowed to go on and perhaps she should
think about having counseling for her problem. Briefly, she lifted
her fingers from the computer, thinking about whether to go back to
her old counselor or find one specializing in relations with the
Hannah's inner life --- rife with disapproval of the attitudes of
most everyone she comes into contact with --- is one of the novel's
few lighter touches. In general, END IN TEARS maintains a dark
tone. The tendrils of Rendell's plot snake over an impressive range
of emotional territory and entangle a sizeable number of
characters, many of them desperately unhappy.
Rendell is a patient writer, never hurrying her story along.
Indeed, the action of the novel takes place over four months, a
span that lets the author's plot spin out in a variety of
directions. The reader gets a clear sense of the frustrations and
blind alleys of an investigation. The long path is muddy from first
step to last, and even an attentive reader may be forgiven for
losing the thread, especially as Rendell weaves her story together
from vignettes that follow various investigators hither and
Any confusion felt by the reader, however, is admirably reflected
in Wexford's own struggles to untangle the villainy at play.
Rendell eventually brings her various storylines together in a
suspenseful final act that is followed by Wexford's detailed, if
convoluted, illumination of the mystery's solution. END IN TEARS is
brilliantly stage-managed and of sufficient intellectual and
emotional heft to satisfy any mystery connoisseur.
Reviewed by Rob Cline (firstname.lastname@example.org) on January 21, 2011