Murder Being Once Done (Chief Inspector Wexford Series #7)

( 11 )


A young girl is murdered in a cemetery.  And Wexford's doctor has prescribed no alcohol, no rich food and, above all, no police work.  When a young girl's body is found in a London cemetery and the local police, under the command of Wexford's nephew, are baffled, Wexford decides to brave his doctor's wrath and the condescension of the London police by doing a little investigating of his own. A compelling story of mysterious identity and untimely death, Murder...

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Murder Being Once Done (Chief Inspector Wexford Series #7)

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A young girl is murdered in a cemetery.  And Wexford's doctor has prescribed no alcohol, no rich food and, above all, no police work.  When a young girl's body is found in a London cemetery and the local police, under the command of Wexford's nephew, are baffled, Wexford decides to brave his doctor's wrath and the condescension of the London police by doing a little investigating of his own. A compelling story of mysterious identity and untimely death, Murder Being Once Done is Rendell at her most sublime.

With her Inspector Wexford novels, Ruth Rendell, winner of the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award, has added layers of depth, realism and unease to the classic English mystery. For the canny, tireless, and unflappable policeman is an unblinking observer of human nature, whose study has taught him that under certain circumstances the most unlikely people are capable of the most appalling crimes.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Chief Inspector Wexford is one of the most admirable presences in mystery fiction today and Ruth Rendell. . . retains her place of highest distinction in the field."
—The New York Times Book Review

"Rendell is a master of the form.  
—The Washington Post Book World

"Undoubtedly one of the best writers of English mysteries and chiller-killer plots."  
—Los Angeles Times

"The best mystery writer anywhere in the English-speaking world."
—The Boston Globe

Library Journal
This Inspector Wexford duo debuted back-to-back in 1972. Murder finds the British sleuth defying doctor's orders and investigating the death of a young girl, while Dying (LJ 7/72) offers a baffling case of two kidnapped children. A double dose of Rendell is twice the fun. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375704888
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/28/1999
  • Series: Chief Inspector Wexford Series, #7
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 185,472
  • Product dimensions: 5.18 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 0.58 (d)

Meet the Author

Ruth Rendell

Ruth Rendell is the author of Road Rage, The Keys to the Street, Bloodlines, Simisola, and The Crocodile Bird. She is the winner of the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award. She is also the recipient of three Edgars from the Mystery Writers of America and four Gold Daggers from Great Britain’s Crime Writers Association. In 1997, she was named a life peer in the House of Lords. Ruth Rendell also writes mysteries under the name of Barbara Vine, of which A Dark Adapted Eye is the most famous. She lives in 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

The sick . . . they see to with great affection, and let nothing at all pass concerning either physic or good diet whereby they may be restored again to their health.

When Wexford came downstairs in the morning his nephew had already left for work and the women, with the fiendish gusto of amateur dieticians, were preparing a convalescent's breakfast. It had been like that every day since he arrived in London. They kept him in bed till ten; they ran his bath for him; one of them waited for him at the foot of the stairs, holding out a hand in case he fell, a lunatic smile of encouragement on her face.

The other—this morning it was his nephew's wife, Denise—presided over the meagre spread on the dining-room table. Wexford viewed it grimly: two circular biscuits apparently composed of sawdust and glue, a pat of unsaturated fat, half a sugarless grapefruit, black coffee and, crowning horror, a glass dish of wobbly pallid substance he took to be yoghourt. His own wife, trotting behind him from her post as staircase attendant, proffered two white pills and a glass of water.

"This diet," he said, "is going to be the death of me."

"Oh, it's not so bad. Imagine if you were diabetic as well."

'Who," quoted Wexford, "can hold a fire in his hand by thinking on the frosty Caucasus?"

He swallowed the pills and, having shown his contempt for the yoghourt by covering it with his napkin, began to eat sour grapefruit under their solicitous eyes.

"Where are you going for your walk this morning, Uncle Reg?"

He had been to look at Carlyle's house; he had explored the King's Road, eyeing with equal amazement the shops and the people who shopped in them; he had stood at the entrance to Stamford Bridge football ground and actually seen Alan Hudson; he had traversed every exquisite little Chelsea Square, admired the grandeur of the Boltons and the quaint corners of Walham Green; on aching feet he had tramped through the Chenil Galleries and the antique market. They liked him to walk. In the afternoons they encouraged him to go with them in taxis and tube trains to the Natural History Museum and Brompton Oratory and Harrods. As long as he didn't think too much or tax his brain by asking a lot of questions or stay up late or try to go into pubs, they jollied him along with a kind of humouring indulgence.

'Where am I going this morning?" he said. "Maybe down to the Embankment."

"Oh, yes, do. What a good idea!"

"I thought I'd have a look at that statue."

"Saint Thomas More," said Denise who was a Catholic.

"Sir Thomas," said Wexford who wasn't.

"Saint Thomas, Uncle Reg." Denise whisked away the unsaturated fat before Wexford could eat too much of it. "And this afternoon, if it isn't too cold, we'll all go and look at Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens."

But it was cold, bitingly cold and rather foggy. He was glad of the scarf his wife had wrapped round his neck, although he would have preferred her not to have gazed so piteously into his eyes while doing so as if she feared the next time she saw him he would be on a mortuary slab. He didn't feel ill, only bored. There weren't even very many people about this morning to divert him with their flowing hair, beads, mediaeval ironmongery, flower-painted boots and shaggy coats matching shaggy Afghan hounds. The teeming young, who usually drifted past him incuriously, were this morning congregated in the little caf6s with names like Friendly Frodo and The Love Conception.

Theresa Street, where his nephew's house was, lay on the borders of fashionable Chelsea, outside them if you hold that the King's Road ends at Beaufort Street. Wexford was beginning to pick up these bits of with-it lore. He had to have something to keep his mind going. He crossed the King's Road by the World's End and made his way towards the river.

It was lead-coloured this morning, the twenty-ninth of February. Fog robbed the Embankment of colour and even the Albert Bridge, whose blue and white slenderness he liked, had lost its Wedgwood look and loomed out of the mist as a sepia skeleton. He walked down to the bridge and then back and across the road, blinking his eye and rubbing it. There was nothing in his eye but the small blind spot, no immovable grain of dust. It only felt that way and always would now, he supposed.

The seated statue which confronted him returned his gaze with darkling kindliness. It seemed preoccupied with affairs of state, affairs of grace and matters Utopian. What with his eye and the fog, he had to approach more closely to be sure that it was, in fact, a coloured statue, not naked bronze or stone but tinted black and gold.

He had never seen it before but he had, of course, seen pictures of the philosopher, statesman and martyr, notably the Holbein drawing of Sir Thomas and his family. Until now, however, the close resemblance of the reproduced face to a known and living face had not struck him. Only replace that saintly gravity with an impish gleam, he thought, those mild resigned lips with the curve of irony, and it was Dr. Crocker to the life.

Feeling like Ahab in Naboth's vineyard, Wexford addressed the statue aloud:

"Hast thou found me, 0 mine enemy?"

Sir Thomas continued to reflect on an ideal state or perhaps on the perils of reformation. His face, possibly by a trick of the drifting mist, seemed to have grown even more grave, not to say comminatory. Now it wore precisely the expression Crocker's had worn that Sunday in Kingsmark-ham when he had diagnosed a thrombosis in his friend's eye.

"God knows, Reg, I warned you often enough. I told you to lose weight, I told you to take things easier, and how many times have I told you to stay off the booze?"

"All right. What now? Will I have another?"

"If you do, it may be your brain the clot touches, not your eye. You'd better get away somewhere for a complete rest. I suggest a month away."

"I can't go away for a month!"

"Why not? Nobody's indispensable."

"Oh, yes, they are. What about Winston Churchill? What about Nelson?"

"The trouble with you, apart from high blood pressure, is delusions of grandeur. Take Dora away to the seaside."

"In February? Anyway, I hate the sea. And I can't go away to the country. I live in the country."

The doctor took his sphygmomanometer out of his bag and, silently rolling up Wexford's sleeve, bound the instru-ment to his arm. "Perhaps the best thing," said Crocker without revealing his findings, "will be to send you to my brother's health farm in Norfolk."

"God! What would I do with myself all day?"

"By the time," said Crocker dreamily, "you've had noth-ing but orange juice and sauna baths for three days you won't have the strength to do anything. The last patient I sent there was too weak to lift the phone and call his wife. He'd only been married a month and he was very much in love."

Wexford gave the doctor a lowering cowed glance. "May God protect me from my friends. I'll tell you what, I'll go to London. How would that do? My nephew's always asking us. You know the one I mean, my sister's boy, Howard, the Superintendent with the Met. He's got a house in Chelsea."

"All right. But no late nights, Reg. No participation in swinging London. No alcohol. I'm giving you a diet sheet, one thousand calories a day. It sounds a lot but, believe me, it ain't."

"It's starvation," said Wexford to the statue.

He had started to shiver, standing there and brooding. Time to get back for the pre-lunch rest and glass of tomato juice they made him have. One thing, he wasn't joining any Peter Pan expedition afterwards. He didn't believe in fairies and one statue a day was enough. A bus ride, maybe. But not on that one he could see trundling up Cremorne Road and ultimately bound for Kenbourne Vale. Howard had made it quite plain in his negative gracious way that that was one district of London in which his uncle wouldn't be welcome.

"And don't get any ideas about talking shop with that nephew of yours," had been Crocker's parting words. "You've got to get away from all that for a bit. Where did you say his manor is, Kenbourne Vale?"

Wexford nodded. "Tough sort of place, I'm told."

"They don't come any tougher. I trained there at Biddulph's." As always when speaking to the green rustic of his years in the metropolis, Crocker wore his Mr. Worldly Wise-man expression and his voice became gently patronising. "There's an enormous cemetery, bigger than Kensal Green and more bizarre than Brompton, with vast old things what their next stop'll be. Apart from that, the place is miles of mouldering terraces containing two classes of persons, Threepenny Opera crooks and the undeserving poor.

"I daresay," said Wexford, getting his own back, "it's changed in the intervening thirty years."

"Nothing to interest you, anyway," the doctor snapped. "I don't want you poking your nose into Kenbourne Vale's crime, so you can turn a deaf ear to your nephew's invitations."

Invitations! Wexford laughed bitterly to himself. Much chance he had of turning a deaf ear when Howard, in the ten days since his uncle's arrival, hadn't spoken a single word even to indicate that he was a policeman, let alone suggested a visit to the Yard or an introduction to his Inspector. Not that he was neglectful. Howard was courtesy itself, the most considerate of hosts, and when it came to conversation, quite deferential in matters, for instance, of literature, in spite of his Cambridge First. Only on the subject nearest to his uncle's heart (and, presumably, to his own) was he discouragingly silent.

It was obvious why. Detective-Superintendents, holding high office in a London crime squad, are above talking shop with Detective-Chief-Inspectors from Sussex. Men who have inherited houses in Chelsea will not condescend very far with men who occupy three-bedroom villas in the provinces. It was the way of the world.

Howard was a snob. A kind, attentive, thoughtful snob, but a snob just the same. And that was why, that above all, Wexford wished he had gone to the seaside or the health farm. As he turned into Theresa Street he wondered if he could stand another evening in Denise's elegant drawing room, the women chatting clothes and cooking, while he and Howard exchanged small talk on the weather and the sights of London, interspersed with bits of Eliot.

"You must try and see some city churches while you're here."

"St. Magnus Martyr, white and gold?"

"St. Mary Woolnoth, who tolls the hours with a dead sound on the final stroke of nine!"

Nearly another fortnight of it.

They wouldn't go to Peter Pan without him. Some other day, they said, resigning themselves without too much anguish to attending Harvey Nichols's fashion show instead. He swallowed his pills, ate his poached fish and fruit salad, and watched them leave the house, each suitably attired as befitted thirty years and fifty-five, Denise in purple velvet, feathers and a picture hat, Dora in the ranch mink he had bought her for their Silver Wedding. They got on fine, those two. As well as their joint determination to treat him like a retarded six-year-old with a congenital disease, they seemed to have every female taste in common.

Everybody got on fine but him, Crocker with his 28-inch waistline; Mike Burden in Kingsmarkham Police Station getting the feel of his, Wexford's, mantle on his shoulders and liking it; Howard departing every day for his secret hush-hush job which might have been in Whitehall rather than Kenbourne Vale nick, for all he told his uncle to the contrary.

Self-pity never got anyone anywhere. He mustn't look on it as a holiday but as a rest cure. It was time to forget all those pleasant visions he had had in the train to Victoria, the pictures of himself helping Howard with his enquiry's, even giving—he blushed to recall it—a few little words of advice. Crocker had been right. He did have delusions of grandeur.

They had been knocked on the head here all right. The house itself was enough to cut any provincial down to size. It wasn't a big house but then neither is the Taj Mahal very big. What worried him and made him tread like a cat burglar were the exquisite appointments of the place, the fragile furniture, the pieces of Chinese porcelain balanced on tiny tables, the screens he was always nearly knocking over, Denise's flower arrangements. Weird, exotic, heterogeneous, they troubled him as almost daily a fresh confection appeared. He could never be sure whether a rosebud was intended to lie in that negligent fashion on the marble surface of a table or whether it had been inadvertently dislodged from its fellows in the majolica bowl by his own clumsy hand.

The temperature of the house, as he put it to himself, exaggerating slightly, was that of a Greek beach at noon in August. If you had the figure for it you could have gone about quite happily in a bikini. He wondered why Denise, who had, didn't.  And how did the flowers survive, the daffodils ill at ease among avocado pear plants?

When he had had his hour's rest with his feet up, he took the two library tickets Denise had left him and walked down to Manresa Road. Anything to get out of that house. The beautiful, warm, dull silence of it depressed him.

Why shouldn't he go home?

Dora could stay on if she liked. He thought of home with an ache in his belly that was only partly due to hunger. Home. The green Sussex meadows, the pine forest, the high street full of people he knew and who knew him, the police station and Mike glad to see him back; his own house, cold as an English house should be except in front of the one great roaring fire; proper food and proper bread and in the fridge the secret beer cans.

Might as well get out a couple of books, though. Something to read in the train, and he could send them back to Denise by post. He chose a novel and then, because he now felt he knew the old boy and had actually had a sort of conversation with him, More's Utopia. After that he had nothing at all to do so he sat down for a long while in the library, not even opening the books but thinking about home.

It was nearly five when he left. He bought an evening paper more from habit than from any desire to read it. Suddenly he found he was tired with the staggering weariness of someone who has nothing to do but must somehow fill the hours between getting up and bedtime.

A long way back to Theresa Street on foot, too long. He hailed a taxi, sank into its seat and unfolded his paper.

From the middle of the front page the bony, almost cadaverous, face of his nephew stared back at him.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 2, 2014

    A Master of the Craft

    Ruth Rendell has a great reputation as a writer of murder mysteries, and deservedly so. This is the seventh in the Chief Inspector Wexford series, and the man is not at the top of his game, since he is recuperating. I have read other Ruth Rendell books, but not the Wexford series. A young girl is found in a cemetery--rather apt--wouldn't you say? Why is it that the British women writers excell at this genre? A book club might well enjoy this as a selection.

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  • Posted June 23, 2012

    Another Wonderful English Mystery.

    Another wonderful Ruth Rendell Mystery. I love the characters of Inspector Wexford and his wife. In this mystery there are enough twists and turns to keep you interested, and some really fascinating characters. Anyone who loves English Mysteries will not be disappointed with this book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2012

    Anything that Ruth Rendell writes is okay by me.

    I just got this book, and haven't read it yet, but I know I will
    enjoy it. Rendell is one of the best, no argument here.

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  • Posted September 12, 2011

    Loved it!

    I don't konw why this does not have five stars Wexler is appealingly honest, and his humor is hillarious. The mystery keeps you guessing all the way to the last page.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2009

    Loved it!

    This book by Ruth Rendell is a bit off-beat for Detective Wexford, however, as usual it held lessons on human behavior and life styles. Obviously, the readers that did not give it good marks are too young perhaps, to enjoy the slower pace of an English novel. It was as always interesting in every way....with a slow build to the mysterious conclusion and great character development. I always think I have picked the killer....and I am forever wrong! Great insight into London (we have lived in Europe)....and interesting interesting always!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2004

    good intentions gone wrong

    i was doing this book for a report in my english class. i only got to chapter two due to the fact that this is one of the worst books i think ive ever read. it was so boring. so, needless to say, i had to search the book to find the information i needed for my report, there was no way i was going to put myself through the rest of that.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2003


    I was so bored that I could not even get through it.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted June 8, 2012

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    Posted January 11, 2009

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    Posted June 13, 2010

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    Posted March 7, 2011

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