Searching for truffles in a wood, a man and his dog unearth something less savoury – a human hand.
The body, as Chief Inspector Wexford is informed later, has lain buried for ten years or so, wrapped in a purple cotton sheet. The post-mortem cannot reveal the precise cause of death. The only clue is a crack in one of the dead man’s ribs.
The police computer stores a long list of missing persons. Men, women and children disappear at an alarming rate, something like 500 every day nation-wide. So Wexford knows he is going to have a job on his hands to identify the corpse.
And then, only twenty yards away from the woodland burial site, in the cellar of a disused cottage, another body is found.
The Snapshot Review
What I Liked: Sitting down with Wexford and Burden again; the subplot which, as often happens in Rendell’s Wexford novels, deals with a complex socio-cultural issue, one which Rendell handles well.
The “But”: Plot was predictable; characters not as finely detailed as in previous Wexford novels.
Ms. Bookish’s Very Quick Take: Wexford fans are always thrilled with a new Wexford novel, but this one isn’t quite up to par with previous ones. Still, very readable.
The Full Review of Not in the Flesh
In Not in the Flesh, Chief Inspector Wexford and Inspector Burden deal with two murders that have taken place eleven and eight years in the past, respectively. One problem I had with the novel was the lack of a sense of immediacy; the murders, committed in the past, remain in the past, and nothing happens to really bring it too much into the present, other than the fact of the police investigation itself. Wexford and Burden’s job is to unravel what happened all those years ago. There’s never any sense of urgency to the matter, which made the novel seem to plod along at times.
Unlike previous Wexford novels, this one was also quite predictable; by mid-novel I had a pretty good idea what had happened, and was annoyed that it took Wexford and Burden, normally so smart and quick to get things, so long to pick up on it. For me, a good mystery is one the solution to which continues to (fairly) elude the reader; the lack of that sense of mystery was disappointing.
The relationship between Wexford and Burden remains an enjoyable read, and we are also given snippets of Wexford’s personal life which happen to have connections to both the murders and to the subplot. I found, though, that the characterization of secondary characters was not as well-rounded as is normal for a Rendell novel.
As happens in many Wexford novels, there is also a subplot which deals with a sensitive socio-cultural issue, in this case, female genital mutilation. As always, Rendell handles the issue admirably, offering us glimpses of both points of view, and ably highlighting the many complex issues surrounding the issue. Rendell makes us think: there are various shades of gray, and one leaves that component of the novel wondering how society can best deal with all the complexities of the issue.
Finally, there were a number of editing errors in my edition of the book which proved to be a very minor distraction.
Overall, I didn’t find Not in the Flesh to be among the best of the Wexford novels. It’s actually quite mediocre compared to the rest. Still, Wexford fans will likely enjoy spending time with Wexford and Burden again. Ms. Bookish’s Rating: B: Good Read ?