The Monster in the Box (Chief Inspector Wexford Series #22)

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The Monster In The Box is the latest addition to Ruth Rendell's classic and beguiling Inspector Wexford series. In this enthralling new book, Rendell, "the best mystery writer in the English-speaking world" (Time), takes Inspector Wexford back to his days as a young policeman, and to the man he has long suspected of murder — serial murder.

Outside the house where Wexford investigated his first murder case — a woman found strangled in her bedroom — he noticed a short, muscular ...

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The Monster In The Box is the latest addition to Ruth Rendell's classic and beguiling Inspector Wexford series. In this enthralling new book, Rendell, "the best mystery writer in the English-speaking world" (Time), takes Inspector Wexford back to his days as a young policeman, and to the man he has long suspected of murder — serial murder.

Outside the house where Wexford investigated his first murder case — a woman found strangled in her bedroom — he noticed a short, muscular man wearing a scarf and walking a dog. He gave Wexford an unnerving stare. Without any solid evidence, Wexford began to suspect that this man — Eric Targo, he learned — was the killer.

Over the years there are more unsolved, apparently motiveless murders in the town of Kingsmarkham, and Wexford continues to quietly suspect that the increasingly prosperous Targo — van driver, property developer, kennel owner, and animal lover — is behind them.

Now, half a lifetime later, Wexford spots Targo back in Kingsmarkham after a long absence. Wexford tells his longtime partner, Mike Burden, about his suspicions, but Burden dismisses them as fantasy. Meanwhile, Burden's wife, Jenny, has suspicions of her own. She believes that the Rahmans, a highly respectable immigrant family from Pakistan, may be forcing their daughter, Tamima, into an arranged marriage — or worse.

In The Monster in the Box, the twenty-second book in the Inspector Wexford series, fans will be thrilled to meet the now-aging inspector in the robust early days of his career. For new readers, no introduction to this spectacular writer and her compelling protagonist could be finer.

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Editorial Reviews

Michael Sims
Monster brings both Rendell and Wexford back in strong form. Invariably, whenever I predicted the plot would go in a certain direction, I was wrong…Ultimately, everything weaves together in Rendell's imaginary town, but more so than ever in The Monster in the Box. We close the book on Inspector Wexford with the knowledge that he has had an illustrious career. And we accept this conclusion because at any time we can return to Kingsmarkham to explore the darker side of humanity with him as our reassuring and humane guide.
—The Washington Post
Marilyn Stasio
Subversive writer that she is, Ruth Rendell slyly sends up two iconic figures of English society—the animal lover and the guardian of political correctness—in her new Inspector Wexford mystery…it's a pleasure to have flashbacks to a boyish Wexford in hot pursuit of girls of a certain alluring type. It's also a revelation to see how meticulously Rendell reconstructs that long-ago period and place from mere glimpses of a street without cars or an open field where a boy could see the stars.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
In Edgar-winner Rendell's 22nd Inspector Wexford novel (after 2007's Not in the Flesh), the British police detective confronts a man from his past, Eric Targo, who he suspects is guilty of multiple murders. Years earlier, Targo stalked and taunted Wexford, daring him to press charges. A squat, creepy bully with a purple birthmark disfiguring his neck, Targo has graduated from smalltime thug to prosperous businessman, ensconced in a nouveau-riche spread complete with private zoo and lion in Kingsmarkham. When Targo apparently commits a murder affecting Wexford's own family, the inspector must re-examine how Targo consistently outsmarts the law. The meeting and mating of Wexford and his wife, Dora, also figure in the backward-looking action. While the reminiscing dilutes some of the suspense, Rendell easily outdistances most mystery writers with her complex characters and her poetic yet astringent style. (Oct.)
Kirkus Reviews
Chief Inspector Wexford's 22nd case returns to the late 1990s-and revisits much older territory as well-in tracing his relationship with a respectable citizen he's certain is a murderer. Half a lifetime ago, Reg Wexford (Not in the Flesh, 2008, etc.) cut his teeth on the strangling of Stowerton housewife Elsie Carroll. Wexford's superiors, suspicious when the mistress of Elsie's husband first declined and then insisted on providing him with an alibi, made him their prime suspect. But Wexford was convinced that the killer was Elsie's neighbor, dog-walking Eric Targo, instantly identifiable by the birthmark on his neck. His only evidence: the disconcerting stare Targo returned when he caught Wexford looking at him. Ever since, Wexford tells DI Mike Burden in an extended series of conversations, he's continued to suspect Targo of several stranglings without any solid evidence. A new murder dismayingly close to Wexford is about to focus his suspicions on Targo yet again. Meanwhile, however, he'll be preoccupied by the disappearance of Tamima Rahman, a student of Mike's wife Jenny, whose family DS Hannah Goldsmith is sure has forced her into marriage or killed her to protect the family honor. Wexford, who can't help noticing how closely Hannah's theories mirror his own, wonders if they're both merely acting out obsessive suspicions. At length, however, the two cases collide with a jolt that shows how Wexford can be both way off-base and utterly right. A less impassioned, more valedictory version of Simisola (1995) with a bonus: more information about Wexford's early years than his celebrated creator has ever shared.
From the Publisher
“A most pleasing tale, adroitly plotted and deftly rendered, peopled with characters both original and convincing.”—Robert Wade, San Diego Union Tribune

“Those coming to this masterful series for the first time doubtless will be delighted to make Wexford's acquaintance.”—Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times

“[Targo] is as good a villain as Wexford ever tried to pin down … hauntingly nasty.”—Spectator (U.K.)

“One of the best-written detective series in the genre's history… Everything weaves together in Rendell's imaginary town, but more so than ever in The Monster in the Box.”—Michael Sims, Washington Post

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Ruth Rendell
Ruth Rendell has won three Edgar Awards, the highest accolade from Mystery Writers of America, as well as four Gold Daggers and a Diamond Dagger for outstanding contribution to the genre from England’s prestigious Crime Writers’ Association. Her remarkable career has spanned more than fifty years, with more than sixty books published. A member of the House of Lords, she lives in London.


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


HE HAD NEVER told anyone. The strange relationship, if it could be called that, had gone on for years, decades, and he had never breathed a word about it. He had kept silent because he knew no one would believe him. None of it could be proved, not the stalking, not the stares, the conspiratorial smiles, not the killings, not any of the signs Targo had made because he knew that Wexford knew and could do nothing about it.

It had gone on for years and then it had stopped. Or seemed to have stopped. Targo was gone. Back to Birmingham yet again or perhaps to Coventry. A long time had passed since he had been seen in Kingsmarkham, and Wexford had thought it was all over. Thought with regret, not relief, because if Targo disappeared—more to the point, if Targo never did it again—what hope had he of bringing the man to justice? Still, he had almost made up his mind he would never see him anymore. He would never again set eyes on that short, muscular figure with the broad shoulders and the thick, sturdy legs, the coarse, fairish hair, blunt features, and bright blue eyes—and the mark that must always be kept covered up. Wexford had only once seen him without the scarf he wore wrapped round his neck, a wool scarf in winter, a cotton or silk one in summer, a scarf that belonged to one of his wives perhaps, no matter so long as it covered that purple-brown birthmark which disfigured his neck, crept up to his cheek, and dribbled down to his chest. He had seen him only once without a scarf, never without a dog.

Eric Targo. Older than Wexford by seven or eight years, a much-married man, van driver, property developer, kennels proprietor, animal lover, murderer. It was coincidence or chance—Wexford favoured the latter—that he was thinking about Targo for the first time in weeks, wondering what had happened to him, pondering and dismissing the rumour that he was back living in the area, regretting that he had never proved anything against him, when the man appeared in front of him, a hundred yards ahead. There was no doubt in his mind, even at that distance, even though Targo’s shock of hair was quite white now. He still strutted, straight-backed, the way a short man carries himself, and he still wore a scarf. In his left hand, on the side nearest to Wexford, he carried a laptop computer. Or, to be accurate, a case made to hold a laptop.

Wexford was in his car. He pulled to the side of Glebe Road and switched off the engine. Targo had got out of a white van and gone into a house on the same side as Wexford was parked. No dog? Wexford had to decide whether he wanted Targo to see him. Perhaps it hardly mattered. How long was it? Ten years? More? He got out of the car and began to walk in the direction of the house Targo had gone into. It was one of a terrace between a jerry-built block of flats and a row of small shops, an estate agent, a nail bar, a newsagent, and a shop called Webb and Cobb (a name which always made Wexford smile) once selling pottery and kitchen utensils but now closed down and boarded up. Mike Burden had lived here once, when he was first married to his first wife; number 36, Wexford remembered. Number 34 was the house Targo had gone into. The front door of Burden’s old house was painted purple now, and the new residents had paved over their narrow strip of front garden to make a motorbike park, something Burden said he resented, as if he had any right to comment on what the present owners did to their property. It made Wexford smile to himself to think of it.

There was no sign of Targo. Wexford walked up to the offside of the van and looked through the driver’s window. It was open about three inches, for the benefit of a smallish dog, white and a tawny colour, of a feathery-eared, long-coated breed he didn’t recognise, sitting on the passenger seat. It turned its head to look at Wexford and let out a single, sharp yap, not loud, not at all angry. Wexford returned to his car and moved it up the road to a position on the opposite side to the white van between a Honda and a Vauxhall. From there he could command a good view of number 34. How long would Targo stay in there? And what had he been doing with the laptop or the laptop case? It seemed an unlikely place for any friend of Targo’s to live. When he had last seen the owner of the whitish tawny dog and the white van, Targo had been doing well for himself, was a rich man, while Glebe Road was a humble street where several families of immigrants had settled and which Burden had moved out of as soon as he could afford to.

Wexford noted the number of the white van. He waited. It was, he thought, a very English sort of day, the air still, the sky a uniform white. On such a day, at much the same time of year, late summer, he had visited Targo’s boarding kennels and seen the snake. The scarf round Targo’s neck had been of black, green, and yellow silk, almost but not quite covering the birthmark, and the snake which he draped round it had been the same sort of colours, the pattern on its skin more intricate. Accident or design? Nothing Targo might do would surprise him. The first time he had seen him, years and years ago when both were young but Wexford was very young, Targo wore a brown wool scarf. It was winter and cold. The dog with him was a spaniel. What was it called? Wexford couldn’t remember. He remembered the second encounter because that was the only time Targo had for a few minutes been without a scarf. He had opened the front door to Wexford, left him standing there while he picked a scarf, his wife’s, off a hook and wound it round his neck. In those few seconds Wexford had seen the purple-brown naevus, shaped like a map of some unknown continent with peninsulas running out to his chest and headlands skimming his chin and cheek, uneven with valleys and mountain ranges, and then Targo had covered it….

Now the front door of number 34 opened and the man emerged. He stood on the doorstep talking to a young Asian, the occupant or one of the occupants of the house. The young man, who wore jeans and a dazzlingly white shirt, was at least six inches taller than Targo, handsome, his skin a pale amber colour, his hair jet-black. Targo, Wexford noticed, might have grown old but he still had a young man’s figure. The T-shirt he wore showed off his heavily muscled torso, and the black jeans emphasised his flat stomach. He had left the laptop behind. While he was in the house, he had taken off his blue-and-white scarf. Because it was warm, no doubt, and, incredibly, because it was no longer needed for concealment. The birthmark had gone.

For a moment Wexford asked himself if he could possibly have made the wrong identification. The yellow hair had gone white, he couldn’t see the bright blue eyes. The purple naevus had been the distinguishing mark which primarily identified him. But, no, this was Targo all right, squat, stocky, muscular Targo with his cocky walk and his confident stance. The Asian man walked a few steps down the short path with him. He held out his hand, and after a short hesitation Targo took it. Asians shook hands a lot, Wexford had noted, friends meeting by chance in the street; always men, though, never women. Someone had told him the Asians at number 34 owned the defunct Webb and Cobb next door—for what that was worth. No doubt they received rents from the tenants of the flats above.

Targo came across to the van, opened the driver’s door, and climbed in. Wexford could just about see him stroke the dog’s head, then briefly put his arm round it and give it a squeeze. If any doubt was left, the dog identified him. A memory came to Wexford from the quite distant past: the first Mrs. Targo, by then divorced, saying of her ex-husband, “He likes animals better than people. Well, he doesn’t like people at all.”

The white van moved off. It might be unwise to follow it, Wexford thought. He hadn’t much faith in his powers of following a vehicle without its driver spotting him. It would be easy enough to find out where Targo now lived, harder to say what use discovering his address would be. He sat there for a few moments longer, reflecting on how seeing Targo again had instantly made him aware of his own physical shortcomings. Yet when he had first seen him, all those years ago, he had been a tall, young policeman, very young and very fit, while Targo was squat and overmuscled and with that horrible facial mark.

Sometime in the years since they had last encountered each other, Targo must have had the naevus removed. It could be done with a laser, Wexford had read in a magazine article about new remedies for disfigurement and deformity. The man had been making a lot of money, and no doubt he had spent some of it on this improvement to his appearance as others had their noses reshaped and their breasts augmented. The stranger thing, he thought, was that Targo still sometimes wore a scarf even on a summer’s day—until he remembered and stripped it off. Did he feel cold without that neck covering he had been wearing for most of his life?

A girl was walking past Wexford’s car, starting to cross the street between it and the Honda. She looked about sixteen, wore the dark blue skirt and white blouse with a blazer which constituted the uniform of Kingsmarkham Comprehensive and, covering her head, the hijab. In her case it was a plain headscarf, the same colour as her skirt, but unflattering as it was, it failed to spoil her looks. Her dark brown eyes, surmounted by fine shapely eyebrows, glanced briefly in his direction. She went towards the house Targo had come out of, took a key from the satchel she carried, and let herself in. Too old to be the daughter of the handsome young man. His sister? Perhaps.

Five minutes later Wexford was parking the car on his own garage drive. Instead of letting himself in by the front door, he walked round the back and surveyed his garden. It was a large garden, which Dora had been doing her best to keep tidy and under control since their gardener had left three months before. It had been a losing battle. Those three months were the time of year when a garden needed constant attention: lawn mowing, weeding, deadheading, cutting back. Little of that had been done. I suppose I could spend the weekend making a real effort, he thought, then added, no, I couldn’t. We must get a gardener and soon. He took a last look at the ragged lawn, the dead roses dropping petals, the nettles springing up vigorously among the dahlias, and went into the house by the back door. Dora was in the living room, reading the local evening paper.

“We have to get a gardener,” said Wexford.

She looked up, smiled, said in a fair imitation of his voice, “Hallo, darling, how lovely to be home. How are you?”

He kissed her. “OK, I know that’s what I should have said. But we do need a gardener. I’ll get you a drink.”

In the kitchen he poured her a glass of sauvignon from the fridge and himself one of merlot from the cupboard. No good putting nuts or crisps into a bowl because she’d snatch it away from him and hide it somewhere as soon as she saw it. He thought again of Targo’s muscly body, then he carried the wine into the living room.

“What do you think about Moslem girls wearing the hijab?”

“Is that the headscarf? I think they should if they want to, really want to for themselves, I mean, but shouldn’t be coerced into it, certainly not by fathers and brothers.”

“It must be the most unbecoming headgear for a woman to wear. But I suppose that’s the point.”

“Or if you’re Moslem, you don’t find it unattractive. Which brings me to Jenny. She’s been here talking about some girl, a Moslem girl, she’s sixteen, in her class at school. She seems to think you ought to know about it.”

“Know what?” Wexford had liked Burden’s wife since he’d first met her twenty years earlier when he and Burden started working together. He knew she was intelligent and a good teacher, but if only she wouldn’t try to get him involved in investigations which wasted his time and usually came to nothing. “What’s wrong now?”

“This girl—she’s called Tamima something, Tamima Rahman, and she lives with her family in Glebe Road, next to where Mike and Jean used to live….”

“I’ve seen her. I saw her today.”

“How can you know, Reg?”

“Well, unless there are two sixteen-year-old Moslem girls living next to where Mike used to live in Glebe Road and attending Kingsmarkham Comp, I can be pretty sure I’ve seen her. What’s Jenny’s businesss with her?”

“She says Tamima got seven or eight GCSEs, A’s and A stars, and if all goes well, she’ll be going on to sixth-form college. That’s all right, but the girl seems unhappy, uneasy even, worried about something. She’s got a boyfriend, a Moslem like herself so that ought to be all right, but Jenny doesn’t think it is. She thinks you ought to see the family, find out what’s going on. Mike, apparently, isn’t interested.”

“Good for Mike,” said Wexford. “He’s better than I am at being firm with people who want to waste his time. Now, how about this gardener? Shall I put an ad in the Courier?”

© 2009 Kingsmarkham Enterprises Limited

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 14 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 15 of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 22, 2013

    A very good mystery.

    Ruth Rendell can always be depended on for a good mystery. This one doesn't fail.

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  • Posted February 11, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Engaging and Satisfying Wexford

    As with many "final" books in a lengthy series, some of the material is lost on those who have not followed prior books. The characters here are classic Rendell and the plot is engaging and well-developed.

    Criticisms about silly dialogue and slow pace or development are themselves "silly" comments--Rendell develops many of her books in a deliberate manner.

    The major "problems" (if that is the right word) is Rendell's need to weave perceived topical social problems into the storyline (particularly in her later books). It just doesn't work that well and accounts for some of the "drag." Long-time Rendell readers realize that you have to accept this for what it is and enjoy the story anyway.

    The audio production is adequate. Despite other criticisms, the narration is well-done by a competent actor. The only notable problem is that he hasn't a clue how to do a Cornish accent--and didn't take time to find out.

    The audio editing is downright sloppy--more than once lengthy "outtakes" were left in the final cut. Not a sufficient reason to avoid the audio version, just a bad reflection on Phoenix Books.

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  • Posted December 12, 2009

    This is vintage Wexford

    I really enjoyed this book. References to Wexfords past would probably be more interesting to those of us who have read every book in this series. Nonetheless, Rendell once again weaves a very fine tale of intrigue. This book was not gripping in the sense that once I started it I couldn't put it down. However, I looked forward to sitting down at the end of the day and reading more of it. Wexford is evolving through life, slowing down a wee bit (but not mentally), and I think it is only fitting that there are some flashbacks to his earlier life. I have read everything Rendell has written, including her Barbara Vine books. She is one of my favorite writers.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2009

    Not Rendell's best

    Rendell fans will be hard-pressed to recognize this as her work at all, for the first 50-75 pages. The story drags, even though the complex and interesting Inspector Wexford is still the central character, as Rendell fills pages with silly dialogue as opposed to building a suspenseful story. Midway through the book, the true Rendell emerges and the mystery elevates to what should be expected from this fine author.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 24, 2009

    Another Great Book by Ruth Rendell

    I love the Inspector Wexford novels as they are psychological thrillers and very well written. It was interesting to have a look into Wexford's past throughout the book. Rendell is certainly a master at her craft; she writes like a dream. You may also like End in Tears and Not in the Flesh, by the same author; as well as the novels she writes under the name Barbara Vine. Acid Row, The Devil's Feather and The Shape of Snakes are also wonderful books by another English writer: Minette Walters.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 5, 2009

    Not as interesting as the book cover suggests

    I've read a few of Ruth Rendell's novels. Some I've liked quite a bit; others not so much. This one falls in the latter category. Much of this story involves Wexler recalling events from his youth, but I began to tire of the author's constant references to the way things used to be as opposed to how they are now. There were also times when she seemed to feel it necessary to explain things too much to her American readership. For example, describing the autumn colors in her setting was fine, but then she adds that there are no reds in the leaves in England, and that you only find those in North America where they have maple trees. Who cares? The book cover is what drew me to read this one, but it really had nothing to do with the story. I may read more of her books, but I'll likely avoid the Inspector Wexler ones.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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