Like Ian Rankin’s Detective John Rebus and Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander, Chief Inspector Reg Wexford retires in Ruth Rendell’s novel, THE VAULT. He and his wife, Dora, split their time between their home in Kingsmarkham and the coach house belonging to their rich daughter, Sheila, an actress.
"Fans and readers who are new to [Rendell's] work will find this a multilayered mystery full of surprises that is not to be missed."
Wexford has put himself on a strict regimen of walking to lose weight, and one day he bumps into an old colleague, Tom Ede. As luck would have it, Ede’s crew is working on a mysterious case involving an old coal hole found on the property of a couple who never knew it was there. Ede tells Wexford that he has seen a special ability for police work in him and says, “If you were my adviser, you could come anywhere with me, have access to anything --- well, almost anything. It’s the Orcadia Place case I’m talking about…”
The retiree agrees to work for free and is more excited than he thought he could be again. His adrenalin flows at the thought of a new case, albeit not one he can control. He goes off to Cricklewood Headquarters and discusses the case with Ede. Three bodies were in the coal hole for so long that no one knows if they are men or women, and one has been buried there for only about two years --- a woman for sure. The pockets of one of the men are full of coins “and a piece of paper with Francine written on it and under that La Punaise and a four-digit number --- and…a lot of valuable jewellery. Not only in his jeans…but in the pockets of his jacket still on the body…valued at [nearly] forty thousand pounds.”
The formal investigation takes many turns and twists as the history of Orcadia House is unraveled through the people who have owned it and lived there, or those who knew people who lived there, both dead and alive. After all, the identities of the buried are unknown, until a great deal of evidence and interviewing are done. For example, one of the most confounding things at Orcadia is the absence of a door in the kitchen (or anywhere else for that matter) to get into the basement. Especially since after clearing the bodies away and a wall-to-wall examination of the basement is completed, a set of stairs is found leading from the basement up to a walled-off area that probably once was a doorway. Why anyone would put the work and money into closing off what appeared to be the only entrance to the basement is an enigma. Did the person who was responsible know about the coal chute in the patio, the piece that was the reason for opening this case?
One of the subplots focuses on one of Wexford’s daughters who is attacked by a spurned lover. Another is the story of two sisters who were victims of human trafficking. Other events punctuate the story, and as Ruth Rendell always does, she uses them to bring drama and suspense to THE VAULT. Fans and readers who are new to her work will find this a multilayered mystery full of surprises that is not to be missed.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on September 15, 2011