Review: Not in the Flesh, by Ruth Rendell

Not in the FleshFrom the Jacket Flap:

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 ?

9 thoughts on “Review: Not in the Flesh, by Ruth Rendell

  1. Beth F

    You know, reading your blog is detrimental to my TBR pile! I haven’t read any Rendell. But mysteries are my favorite escape reading. I’ll put her on my wish list.

  2. Maxine

    Good review. I understand why you write what you write, but I still enjoy these books very much. Although Wexford does not quite inhabit the contemporary world, and the police station is not quite right somehow, I always enjoy these novels so much, as much as I did when I first read them as a teenager many years ago. I find that the Wexford books have endured more for me than Rendell’s other books and her Vine books (although I have loved a couple of those, some are a bit dull I think).

  3. Maxine

    PS I should have mentioned in my comment that I did read this particular book and I think I would have given it a higher mark than you. I think Rendell writes better now than P D James, the other grande dame of the UK crime fiction scene.

  4. Ms. Bookish Post author

    Beth, I can say the same for your blog – very detrimental to my TBR pile. You’ll enjoy the Wexford mysteries, I think.

    Maxine, I also like the Wexford books very much. I think this is the first one that I’ve been disappointed with – for some reason, the beginning didn’t come together that well for me. And usually her plots are very complex but in this case, I’d figured out most of it midway through. But I do enjoy Rendell’s writing very much (and like you, I prefer her Wexford mysteries to her standalone ones).

  5. Pingback: TSS: Currently reading Brown, Cabot, Fowler and Neville - Ms. Bookish

  6. Dorte H

    I only scanned this review as I have ordered this book second-hand a week ago so I didn´t want to spoil my own reading experience. But I understand what you mean. Some books we read (and love) because we love the main character so even though the quality of Rendell´s (and Barbara Vine´s) books vary a little, I would never skip a Wexford story.

    Dorte H’s last blog post..Anne Holt, Det som aldrig sker (Gyldendal 2005).

  7. Ms. Bookish Post author

    Dorte, that’s such a good point. A well-developed series character is definitely what keeps me coming back. I’ve loved the Wexford series for a long time, and will continue to read every Wexford book that comes out.

  8. peter ellway

    comment about editorial errors – the one interesting one is when Rendell attributes a quote about the Holy Roman Empire to Gibbon when in fact it was Voltaire

  9. Peter Ellway

    It’s me again! On about editorial errors again, this time in relation to PD James – actually not really errors, but has anyone who’s read “Death in Holy Orders” think that James fails to make a couple of things clear? a) that the murder weapon was a bloodied candlestick, and b) that Miss Fawcett would have told Dalgleish’s cronies about the phone call from murdered Margaret. If you don’t know what I am on about, please look again and see if you can find bits of text I obviously missed!


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