Rendell, Ruth - 'No Man's Nightingale'
Susan Hussain was not very popular amongst the people in the Kingsmarkham community, she was born of mixed parentage with a white Irish mother and an immigrant Indian father and she was the Vicar of St Peter's Church. However, it was a great shock to everyone when she was discovered strangled in the Vicarage.
Former Detective Chief Inspector Wexford employs a cleaner who, coincidentally, also worked at the Vicarage and who unfortunately discovered the body. This cleaner, Maxine, is extremely talkative and Wexford who in his retirement is trying to concentrate on reading Edward Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire finds her an unwelcome distraction. However, his former assistant Mike Burden would like Wexford to assist on the case as Crime Solutions Adviser (unpaid) and accordingly he must pay more attention to all available information no matter what its source!
Maxine the cleaner soon finds that her tongue gives Wexford more information than she should have imparted as she has forgotten that whilst he is her boss he is also is a retired policeman. Wexford is obliged to pass on the the details to Mike Burden and as a result Maxine's son ends up in police custody. Wexford is obliged to obtain a new cleaner as Maxine, who believed the information she gave Wexford was in confidence, now finds it has been used against her.
Wexford enjoys the reflective nature of his secondment to the police and pursues any lead in the case alone, as he disapproves of the consultative way Mike Burden does all of his policing using lots of meetings with juniors all the time to discuss what is happening when he feels the time might be better spent pursuing leads and interviewing neighbours and other relations to discover the Vicars possible enemies.
He also uses the time to consider parts of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and chunks of this are quoted throughout the text of the story. However, the story which was very gripping with many red herrings soon reaches an exciting conclusion and the guilty party is locked up. The murderer was someone I had not thought of and that is usually a good sign in stories of this kind.
Ruth Rendell writes a well constructed police procedural as this is, but I must admit that I have started reading her earlier Wexford books and the first one FROM DOON WITH DEATH I thought was outstanding; this present one, nonetheless, was very entertaining. I also was intrigued by the frequent quotations to The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire which perhaps I must read, although as I believe it runs to seven volumes perhaps I'll save it for the distant future.
Terry Halligan, England