Harm Done (Chief Inspector Wexford Series #18)

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On the day Lizzie came back from the dead, the police and her family and neighbors had already begun to search for her body. She had been missing for three days. Never an articulate child, between her confusion and amnesia she could not plausibly describe where she’d been or why she’d been away. Soon after, a convicted pedophile is released back into the community, adding to the already heightened fears of parents in the Muriel Campden Estate where he lives. Then the child of a wealthy executive disappears, and ...

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Harm Done (Chief Inspector Wexford Series #18)

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On the day Lizzie came back from the dead, the police and her family and neighbors had already begun to search for her body. She had been missing for three days. Never an articulate child, between her confusion and amnesia she could not plausibly describe where she’d been or why she’d been away. Soon after, a convicted pedophile is released back into the community, adding to the already heightened fears of parents in the Muriel Campden Estate where he lives. Then the child of a wealthy executive disappears, and not long after, a suspect in the kidnapping is found stabbed to death.

Chief Inspector Wexford is charged with solving the mysterious disappearances, protecting a pedophile, and catching a killer. As he searches for connections, he finds himself focusing on domestic violence. His daughter, Sylvia, a social worker, has come to work nearby in a refuge for battered women called The Hide. Her marriage is also strained, although her husband has never raised a hand to her. Others in Kingsmarkham are not so fortunate. As Wexford moves closer to the truth, he confronts the discomfiting lesson that when it comes to the inner life of families, justice is rarely as straightforward as the letter of the law.

About the Author:

Ruth Rendell is the recipient of three Edgar awards, four Gold Daggers, the Commander of the British Empire Award, and the most prestigious Edgar of them all, the Grand Master Award. She lives in London.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Inspector Wexford Returns

Ruth Rendell's long, varied career has been a constant source of astonishment and pleasure. Since the appearance of her first novel, From Doon with Death in 1964, she has published nearly 50 books, most of which fall into three general categories. There are the Inspector Wexford novels, a long-running series of police procedurals set in the fictional Sussex village of Kingsmarkham. There are the psychological thrillers, such as The Bridesmaid, The Crocodile Bird, and Live Flesh, many of which contain eerily precise renderings of violent, abnormal mental states. Finally, there are the Barbara Vine novels, subtle, sometimes leisurely narratives that straddle the imaginary boundary between mainstream and genre fiction.

Rendell's latest, Harm Done, is a Wexford novel, the first since 1997's Road Rage and one of the longest, most ambitious entries in the series. In this one, Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford is confronted with an assortment of investigations that intersect -- or appear to intersect -- at a number of points. For reasons that will eventually become obvious, Wexford later comes to think of this intertwining series of occurrences as the Children's Crusade.

Harm Done opens with the disappearance of a not-quite-retarded 16-year-old named Lizzie Cromwell. Three days after her abduction, Lizzie returns home, obviously unharmed but unable -- or unwilling -- to explain her absence. (She is also, as Wexford quickly learns, pregnant, a circumstance that may or may not be related to her disappearance.) One week later, a college student named Rachel Holmes -- older, brighter, more aggressive than Lizzie -- vanishes in a similar fashion. She, too, returns within three days and is equally unwilling to cooperate with local investigators. Shortly afterward, the three-year-old daughter of a wealthy airline executive also disappears, stolen from her bedroom in the small hours of the morning. This particular victim -- Sanchia Devenish -- does not immediately return, and the mystery of her whereabouts provides this complex novel with its dramatic -- and thematic -- center.

Wexford's life -- and village life in general -- is further complicated by two unrelated elements. One concerns the arrival of a once-notorious pedophile -- Thomas Orbe -- who has just been discharged from prison and has taken up residence in Kingsmarkham. When the news of Sanchia Devenish's abduction is made public, Orbe becomes the focal point of the community's outrage, outrage that has violent, ultimately tragic consequences. The second element concerns the presence in Kingsmarkham of a controversial haven for battered women called The Hide. Wexford's daughter Sylvia, a social worker with marital problems of her own, works as a volunteer at The Hide. Through her, Rendell provides us with a window on the grim realities of women victimized by violent, endlessly self-justifying husbands.

In the end, Sylvia's familiarity with the symptoms of marital abuse provides Wexford with the key to Sanchia's disappearance. Studying a group portrait of the Devenish family -- handsome, self-confident husband; pale, self-deprecating wife; blank, expressionless children -- Sylvia understands immediately that Stephen Devenish -- husband, father, extraordinarily successful businessman -- is a wife-beater. Once the nature of life in the Devenish family is made clear to Wexford, he finds his way to the heart of the novel's central mystery and sets in motion a series of events that ends, inevitably, in murder.

Rendell is at the top of her game in this one, skillfully manipulating a large cast of characters and a multitude of subplots to produce a wide-ranging, deeply felt meditation on the infinitely vulnerable institution of the family. The numerous families that populate this novel are threatened, and sometimes destroyed, by the forces of poverty, insanity, greed, ignorance, and, most centrally, violence. Rendell's portraits of battered and beleaguered women, her anger over the lingering belief that domestic violence is somehow "acceptable," and her gradual revelation of the casual brutality of life in the Devenish household combine to give this gritty, aptly titled novel an immediacy, a sense of moral and emotional urgency, that lift it well above the level of more traditional detective stories and onto the level of literature.

During the course of her career, Rendell has won virtually every award that the mystery community can bestow: multiple Edgar awards, multiple Gold Daggers, Lifetime Achievement Awards from both the Mystery Writers of America and the Crime Writers Association of England. Reading her latest, it's not hard to understand why. Harm Done is a well-constructed, deeply affecting novel. It offers further evidence -- as if further evidence were needed -- that its author is one of the preeminent figures of 20th-century crime fiction.

—Bill Sheehan

Diane White
Fans of Ruth Rendell's work can't help wondering how she does it. How does she turn out so many wonderful novels, sometimes two or three a year, year after year? The woman is clearly some kind of genius who deserves all the many honors that have come, and continue to come, her way.
Boston Globe
New Yorker
Rendell’s clear, shapely prose casts the mesmerizing spell of the confessional.
Los Angeles Times
Rendell writes with such elegance and restraint, with such a literate voice and an insightful mind, that she transcends the mystery genre and achieves something almost sublime.
Ottawa Citizen
Rendell just seems to get sharper and sharper.
Gazette (Montreal)
No one plays head games quite as well as Rendell.
British crime at its best can be found in the fiction of Ruth Rendell, for whom no superlative is sufficient.
Library Journal
Chief Inspector Wexford is having a busy month. First two young women are taken from a bus stop; then a pedophile is released from jail, triggering violence from members of the community. During the course of these events a colleague is killed. Then a child is stolen from her crib in the middle of the night, and later her father is found murdered. On top of this Wexford must deal with the disintegration of his daughter's marriage and her new job in a shelter for victims of domestic violence, a job that lands her right in the middle of several of the cases he is working on. How does the inspector deal with these cases as well as the crises that are arising from his own family? Unlike most crime mysteries, this seems to be more of a slice of life focusing on a variety of tales and their aftermaths. Though the novel, read by Christopher Ravenscroft, starts out promisingly, it gets bogged down, and the stories come to boring, contrived endings. Since Rendell is a popular writer, libraries will want to have this title to satisfy demand. Otherwise, not a necessary purchase.--Danna Bell-Russel, Library of Congress Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Patricia Craig
Harm Done is not so much a murder mystery (although a murder does eventually take place) as a novel evoking one kind of abuse after another, detailing all the symptoms of a vast malaise...[A]ll this is recounted in Ruth Rendell's usual manner which is unimpassioned, shrewd, and faintly ironic...a lively speculative tone is maintained throughout.
—From The Times Literary Supplement.
From the Publisher
"Ruth Rendell is unequivocally the most brilliant mystery writer of our time."
—Patricia Cornwell

"Rendell's clear, shapely prose casts the mesmerizing spell of the confessional."
—The New Yorker

"No one plays head games quite as well as Rendell."
—The Gazette (Montreal)

"Rendell writes with such elegance and restraint, with such a literate voice and an insightful mind, that she transcends the mystery genre and achieves something almost sublime."
—Los Angeles Times

"No one writes with more devastating accuracy about the world we live and commit sins in today. . . . She is one of our most important novelists."
—John Mortimer

"Rendell just seems to get sharper and sharper."
—The Ottawa Citizen

"British crime at its best can be found in the fiction of Ruth Rendell, for whom no superlative is sufficient."
—Chronicle-Herald (Halifax)

"Ruth Rendell has written some of the best novels of twentieth-century crime fiction."
—Frances Fyfield, author of Blind Date and Without Consent

"Ruth Rendell is surely one of the greatest novelists presently at work in our language. She is a writer whose work should be read by anyone who enjoys either brilliant mystery—or distinguished literature."
—Scott Turow

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375724848
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/28/2000
  • Series: Chief Inspector Wexford Series, #18
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 362,411
  • Product dimensions: 5.17 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Ruth Rendell

Ruth Rendell is the author of 46 books. Her reputation as both a literary master and a great storyteller has grown both in Britain and internationally with each new book. She is the winner of many awards, including three Edgars, four Gold Daggers, the Commander of the British Empire Award, and the most prestigious Edgar of them all, the Grand Master Award. She lives in London, England.


From the start of her illustrious career, Ruth Rendell's novels have blurred the distinction between literature and commercial fiction. Although Rendell is classified as a writer of mysteries and crime thrillers, her elegant prose and superb literary skills elevate her far above the conventions of those genres.

Born Ruth Barbara Grasemann in London in 1930, she attended the Loughton County High School for Girls in Essex, then went to work as a features writer for the Essex newspapers. In 1950, she married her boss at the newspaper, journalist Donald Rendell. (They divorced in 1975, remarried two years later, and remained together until his death in 1999.) For the next decade, she juggled marriage, motherhood, and part-time writing. She produced at least two unpublished novels before hitting pay dirt in 1964 with From Doon with Death, the first mystery to feature Chief Inspector Reginald 'Reg' Wexford of the Kingsmarkham Police Force. An immediate bestseller, the book launched Rendell's career and marked the beginning of one of the most successful and enduring series in detective fiction.

In 1965, Rendell published her second novel, a deft crime thriller (with no police presence) entitled To Fear a Painted Devil. For 20 years, she was content to alternate installments in the Wexford series with a steady stream of bestselling standalones that explored darker themes like envy, sexual obsession, and the tragic repercussions of miscommunication. Then, in 1986, she began a third strand of fiction under the name Barbara Vine. The very first of these books, A Dark-Adapted Eye, earned a prestigious Edgar Award.

From the get-go, the pseudonymous Vine novels had a separate DNA, although Rendell has always had difficulty pinpointing the distinction. In an interview with NPR, she tried to explain: "I don't think the Barbara Vines are mysteries in any sense. I must say that. They are different, and that is partly how I decide. The idea would come to me and I would know at once whether it was to be a Barbara Vine or a Ruth Rendell ... The Barbara Vine is much more slowly paced. It is a much more in-depth, searching sort of book; it doesn't necessarily have a murder in it. It's almost always set partly in the past, sometimes quite a long way in the past. And I think all these things come together and make them very different from the Ruth Rendells."

Under both names, Rendell has garnered numerous awards, including three American Edgars and multiple Gold and Silver Daggers from England's distinguished Crime Writers' Association. In 1996, she was made a Commander of the British Empire; and in 1997, a Life Peerage was conferred on her as Baroness Rendell of Babergh. Although, in her own words, she was "slightly stunned" by the peerage, she takes her responsibilities quite seriously, writing in the mornings and attending the House of Lords several afternoons a week.

Praise for Rendell is lavish and seemingly unqualified. John Mortimer once proclaimed that she would surely have won the Booker if she had not been pigeonholed as a "crime writer." Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison has identified Rendell as one of her favorite authors. And Joyce Carol Oates has called her "one of the finest practitioners of the craft in the English-speaking world."

Good To Know

While working as a journalist, Rendell once reported on a local club's annual dinner without actually attending. Her story omitted the crucial fact that the after-dinner speaker had dropped dead at the podium in the middle of his speech! She resigned before being fired.

The pseudonym Barbara Vine derives from the combination of Rendell's middle name and her great-grandmother's maiden name.

"I wouldn't keep my age a secret even if I had the chance," Rendell has said. "But I don't have the chance. Regularly, on February 17, the newspapers tell their readers my age."

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    1. Also Known As:
      Barbara Vine
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 17, 1930
    2. Place of Birth:
      London, England
    1. Education:
      Loughton County High School for Girls, Essex

Read an Excerpt

On the day Lizzie came back from the dead the police and her family and neighbors had already begun the search for her body. They worked on the open countryside between Kingsmarkham and Myringham, combing the hillsides and beating through the woods. It was April but cold and wet, and a sharp northeast wind was blowing. Their task was not a pleasant one; no one laughed or joked and there was little talking.

Lizzie’s stepfather was among the searchers, but her mother was too upset to leave the house. The evening before, the two of them had appeared on television to appeal for Lizzie to come home, for her abductor or attacker, whatever he might be, to release her. Her mother said she was only sixteen, which was already known, and that she had learning difficulties, which was not. Her stepfather was a lot younger than her mother, perhaps ten years, and looked very young. He had long hair and a beard and wore several earrings, all in the same ear. After the television appearance several people phoned Kingsmarkham Police Station and opined that Colin Crowne had murdered his stepdaughter. One said Colin had buried her on the building site down York Street, a quarter of a mile down the road from where the Crownes and Lizzie lived on the Muriel Campden Estate. Another told Detective Sergeant Vine that she had heard Colin Crowne threaten to kill Lizzie “because she was as thick as two planks.”

“Those folks as go on telly to talk about their missing kids,” said a caller who refused to give her name, “they’re always the guilty ones. It’s always the dad. I’ve seen it time and time again. If you don’t know that, you’ve no business being in the police.”

Chief Inspector Wexford thought she was dead. Not because of what the anonymous caller said, but because all the evidence pointed that way. Lizzie had no boyfriend, she was not at all precocious, she had a low IQ and was rather slow and timid. Three evenings before, she had gone with some friends on the bus to the cinema in Myringham, but at the end of the film the other two girls had left her to come home alone. They had asked her to come clubbing with them but Lizzie had said her mother would be worried—the friends thought Lizzie herself was worried at the idea—and they left her at the bus stop. It was just before eight-thirty and getting dark. She should have been home in Kingsmarkham by nine-fifteen, but she didn’t come home at all. At midnight her mother had phoned the police.

If she had been, well, a different sort of girl, Wexford wouldn’t have paid so much attention. If she had been more like her friends. He hesitated about the phrase he used even in his own mind, for he liked to keep to his personal brand of political correctness in his thoughts as well as his speech. Not to be absurd about it, not to use ridiculous expressions like intellectually challenged, but not to be insensitive either and call a girl such as Lizzie Cromwell mentally handicapped or retarded. Besides, she wasn’t either of those things, she could read and write, more or less, she had a certain measure of independence and went about on her own. In daylight, at any rate. But she wasn’t fit just the same to be left alone after dark on a lonely road. Come to that, what girl was?

So he thought she was dead. Murdered by someone. What he had seen of Colin Crowne he hadn’t much liked, but he had no reason to suspect him of killing his stepdaughter. True, some years before he married Debbie Cromwell, Crowne had been convicted of assault on a man outside a pub, and he had another conviction for taking and driving away—in other words, stealing—a car. But what did all that amount to? Not much. It was more likely that someone had stopped and offered Lizzie a lift.

“Would she accept a lift from a stranger?” Vine had asked Debbie Crowne.

“Sometimes it’s hard to make her like understand things,” Lizzie’s mother had said. “She’ll sort of say yes and no and smile—she smiles a lot, she’s a happy kid—but you don’t know if it’s like sunk in. Do you, Col?”

“I’ve told her never talk to strangers,” said Colin Crowne. “I’ve told her till I’m blue in the face, but what do I get? A smile and a nod and another smile, then she’ll just say something else, something loony, like the sun’s shining or what’s for tea.”

“Not loony, Col,” said the mother, obviously hurt.

“You know what I mean.”

So when she had been gone three nights and it was the morning of the third day, Colin Crowne and the neighbors on either side of the Crownes on the Muriel Campden Estate started searching for Lizzie. Wexford had already talked to her friends and the driver of the bus she should have been on but hadn’t been on, and Inspector Burden and Sergeant Vine had talked to dozens of motorists who used that road daily around about that time. When the rain became torrential, which happened at about four in the afternoon, they called off the search for that day, but they were set to begin again at first light. Taking DC Lynn Fancourt with him, Wexford went over to Puck Road for another talk with Colin and Debbie Crowne.

When it was built in the sixties, on an open space that would now be called a “green field area,” between the top of York Street and the western side of Glebe Road, the three streets and block of flats on a green in the midst of them, it had been called the York Estate. The then chairman of the housing committee, who had done A Midsummer Night’s Dream for his school certificate and was proud of the knowledge thus gained, named the streets after characters in that comedy, Oberon, Titania, and Puck.

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 7 of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 15, 2011

    harm done by ruth rendell

    Good book overall but fell short of the exciting beginning. A fun read and I may try another one of her books.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2005

    Great! Great! Great!

    There is nothing slow moving and boring about this novel. It is so absorbing and readable that the pages practically turn themselves. If you like the intelligent british detective story then you will adore Wexford. Let's you try and solve the mystery piece by piece while there is an ongoing subplot of the Chief Inspector's family. Loved it, Loved it, Loved it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2004

    Slow Reading, Boring

    I read about 1 novel every 2 weeks but felt like I was riding on the back of a snail while 'trying' to get through this book. Slow paced, I kept waiting for a surprise around the corner, fireworks, something big to happen that you would expect to find in a 'mystery novel', but there never was anything. Draggy, choppy, boring, no thrill or roller coaster ride with this one. Extremely disappointing! Don't think I'd waste my time reading any of Ms. Rendell's other novels.

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    Posted December 24, 2009

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    Posted June 13, 2011

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    Posted January 11, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing 1 – 7 of 6 Customer Reviews

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