Ruth Rendell outdoes herself in NO MAN'S NIGHTINGALE, her 24th Inspector Wexford novel. In this tangled and labyrinthine book, she tackles social problems as well as solves the murder of a prominent woman in the community. The lady in question is vicar Sarah Hussain, a former Muslim who is now a devout Christian. She was obviously female, "a single mother and biracial." She has a small following and is liked by her parishioners. Who would want her dead and why? Could she be the victim of a racist?
Men don't like her and are stridently against her position in the Church of England. “No woman has a place among priests” is their mantra. But Sarah is a very strong woman and doesn't suffer fools lightly. She is not afraid, nor is she about to let her life be ruined by these vocal bigots.
Former Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford, now retired, is asked by his former sidekick, Mike Burden, now a Detective Superintendent, to be a liaison on the case. Wexford is busy reading The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and is going crazy because his cleaning lady is a non-stop talking machine. Thus he is thrilled to have the opportunity to be back on a case and out of earshot of Maxine.
"Ruth Rendell outdoes herself in NO MAN'S NIGHTINGALE, her 24th Inspector Wexford novel. In this tangled and labyrinthine book, she tackles social problems as well as solves the murder of a prominent woman in the community."
When inspecting her house, Wexford unintentionally puts a letter he found used as a bookmark into his pocket. He is embarrassed when he has to tell Burden he took away a piece of evidence. Wexford finds the writer of the letter and visits her to learn more about Hussain. The woman tells him that Hussain's daughter, Clarissa, is the product of rape and doesn't know the facts of her conception.
Then he asks if he has the facts of Hussain's life right: "Sarah's husband died in a car crash. They weren’t married long. [She] came down from university with, incidentally, a very good honors degree." She got herself a teaching certificate and taught English as a foreign language, and then "found herself some private pupils.”
One of the other policemen had a conversation with Clarissa in a cafe. They were talking about Hussain’s rape, and Clarissa said she thought the rapist might be man named Gerald Watson. She said "she knew him by sight and that he had been sort of stalking her mother for about six months." Could he be the killer? The rapist?
As the narrative unfolds, different people who had relationships with Hussain make appearances. Ruth Rendell doesn't let her fans down. In interesting and well-honed language, she gives them a reason for being on the page, liberally dropping hints and sending readers in different directions. This makes for a very suspenseful procedural full of characters who might lead readers to think: "Aha! I've got it.”
Rendell also writes under the pseudonym Barbara Vine, whose books are a little bit edgier than the Rendell collection. But regardless of which ones you pick up, you can be rest assured that they won't be your last.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on November 8, 2013