No Man's Nightingale (Chief Inspector Wexford Series #24)

No Man's Nightingale (Chief Inspector Wexford Series #24)

3.6 13
by Ruth Rendell
     
 

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From crime legend Ruth Rendell, the gripping new novel in her “beloved” (USA Today) Inspector Wexford series, which will soon mark its fiftieth anniversary

A female vicar named Sarah Hussain is discovered strangled in her Kingsmarkham vicarage. Maxine, the gossipy cleaning woman who finds the body, happens to also be in the employ of formerSee more details below

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Overview

From crime legend Ruth Rendell, the gripping new novel in her “beloved” (USA Today) Inspector Wexford series, which will soon mark its fiftieth anniversary

A female vicar named Sarah Hussain is discovered strangled in her Kingsmarkham vicarage. Maxine, the gossipy cleaning woman who finds the body, happens to also be in the employ of former Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford and his wife. When called on by his old deputy, Wexford, who has taken to reading The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as a retirement project, leaps at the chance to tag along with the investigators. Wexford is intrigued by the unusual circumstances of the murder, but he’s also desperate to escape the chatty Maxine.

A single mother to a teenage girl, Hussain was a woman working in a male-dominated profession. Of mixed race and an outspoken church reformer, she had turned some in her congregation against her, including the conservative vicar’s warden. Could one of her enemies in the church have gone so far as to kill her? Or could it have been the elderly next-door gardener with a muddled alibi?

As Wexford searches the vicar’s house alongside the police, he sees a book, Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua, lying on Hussain’s bedside table. Inside it is a letter serving as a bookmark. Without thinking much, Wexford puts it into his pocket. Wexford soon realizes he has made a grave error—he’s removed a piece of evidence from the crime scene. Yet what he finds inside begins to illuminate the murky past of Sarah Hussain. Is there more to her than meets the eye?

No Man’s Nightingale is Ruth Rendell’s masterful twenty-fourth installment in one of the great crime series of all time.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
11/01/2013
Perhaps he retired officially, but Wexford is eager to jump in when asked to by his former deputy. What to make of a strangled vicar in Wexford's 25th case (after The Vault)? Noteworthy: this series is on the cusp of its 50th anniversary! (Starts with From Doon with Death) [See Prepub Alert, 5/13/13.]
Publishers Weekly
09/02/2013
In Rendell’s absorbing 24th Inspector Wexford novel (after 2011’s The Vault), the Kingsmarkham, England, sleuth tries to find out who strangled the Rev. Sarah Hussain in the vicarage of St. Peter’s Church, and why. The fact that Hussain was biracial and a single mother had galvanized bigots near and far, who resented her very existence as well as her modernizing the liturgy. When Wexford’s grandson, Robin, begins dating Sarah’s daughter, Clarissa, Robin gets entangled in identifying Clarissa’s sperm-donor father—further upping the ante for Wexford. Is a white power group responsible for killing Sarah, or had a personal relationship curdled into fury? Suspects abound: the shiftless depressive Jeremy Legg; the Anglican traditionalist Dennis Cuthbert; and Gerald Watson, a stuffy old flame of the murdered woman. Wexford’s strengths as a man and as a detective are his calmness and resilience. A serene atheist, he looks to the conscience of humanity and Britain’s flawed but well-intended laws to glean whatever justice can exist today. Agent: Peter Matson, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Nov.)
USA Today
"Refined, probing, and intelligent.... The book is never less than a pleasure."
The Evening Standard (London)
"A Joy to read."
Minneapolis Star Tribune
"What I love about the prolific Rendell is her adherence to the elegant traditions of British mysteries without ignoring modern life."
From the Publisher
"No one surpasses Ruth Rendell when it comes to stories of obsession, istability, and malignant coincidence."

“Unequivocally the most brilliant mystery writer of our time.

“Ruth Rendell is my dream writer. Her prose style...has the disquieting intimacy of an alien touch in the dark.”

“It's a pleasure to report that Ruth Rendell, at the age of 82 and after publishing more than 60 books, has given us yet another gem. A pleasure but not a surprise, since Rendell has for years, along with her friend P.D. James, been bringing new sophistication and psychological depth to the traditional English mystery.”

“The characters jump off the page. The page-to-page surprises are so clever that the reader is left agape at each twist and turn. The pieces fit together brilliantly.

Washington Post
“Rendell has for years, along with her friend P.D. James, been bringing new sophistication and psychological depth to the traditional English mystery.”
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“The characters jump off the page. The page-to-page surprises are so clever that the reader is left agape at each twist and turn. The pieces fit together brilliantly.
The Seattle Times
"I’m happy to report that RuthRendell’s “No Man’sNightingale” is as absorbingand rewarding as her other Inspector Wexford novels… Supporting charactersstand out. So does Rendell’s typically clear-eyed examination of a vexingsocial issue: In this case it’s racism."
Stephen King
"No one surpasses Ruth Rendell when it comes to stories of obsession, istability, and malignant coincidence."
Richmond Times-Dispatch
"Rendell ... has long mastered the art of suspense and the ability to supply subtle clues to the alert reader. She explores social issues and examines obsession and human weakness, and she does so with understated but memorable prose and a touch of wry humor. The dark song she sings in No Man’s Nightingale will, as always, entrance devotees of smart and heartfelt fiction."
Patricia Cornwell
“Unequivocally the most brilliant mystery writer of our time.
Charlotte News & Observer
"Inspector Wexford [is] the hardest-working retired policeman in show biz…. Ruth Rendell explores bigotry in its various forms, from overt racism to unconscious assumptions in otherwise open-minded people."
Bookreporter
“Ruth Rendell outdoes herself in NO MAN'S NIGHTINGALE, her 24th Inspector Wexford novel. In this tangled and labyrinthine book, she tackles social problems as well as solves the murder of a prominent woman in the community…Rendell doesn't let her fans down.”
The New York Times Book Review - Marilyn Stasio
"'Subtle' is an inadequate word for Ruth Rendell. So are 'crafty,' 'cunning,' 'clever' and 'sly.'"
Los Angeles Times - Jonathan Shapiro
“If you’re unfamiliar with Ruth Rendell, if you’ve somehow managed to miss her sixty or so books … then, congratulations: Your reading life is about to get infinitely richer."
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Robert Croan
"A novel by Ruth Rendell is like none other..... The results are seldom what we expect them to be, and that is part of this author's special genius."
USA Today - Charles Finch
“[Rendell’s] new Inspector Wexford novel, the 24th in the series, is as refined, probing,and intelligent as prior installments… She integrates her themes of religious belief, class in England, and womanhood so effortlessly that the book is never less than a pleasure.”
The Cleveland Plain-Dealer
"Ror readers who have loved this series over the decades, it’s still nice to spend time with the Wexfords."
Boston Globe - Daneet Steffens
"Rendell unspools anentertaining cast of characters… Lovely touches of detail… Best of all forWexford fans, the book affords some terrific moments between the retired sleuthand [Detective Superintendent Mike] Burden."
Kirkus Reviews
2013-10-19
Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford (The Vault, 2011, etc.) may have retired from the Kingsmarkham Police, but murder keeps finding him, this time by invading his own neighborhood. Having a new vicar who's an unmarried Irish-Indian mother has scandalized old-guard warden Dennis Cuthbert and quite a few members of the St. Peter's congregation. But would any of them really have hated Sarah Hussain enough to have strangled her? Detective Superintendent Mike Burden invites Wexford, his old boss, to accompany him on his rounds of questioning. One promising line of inquiry ends with the suicide of a suspect who confesses to unhappiness and bad behavior but not to murder; another, to a split between two old colleagues when Burden arrests gardener Duncan Crisp, who Wexford believes is innocent. It's hard carrying on an investigation with no warrant card after the case has been officially closed, but Wexford has a secret weapon: Maxine Sams, the superlatively gossipy cleaner he shares with several neighbors. Maxine, among the most sharply realized of all Rendell's characters, is essentially a comic figure, but there's nothing comic about her son Jason, a supermarket manager whose dodgy relationship with his landlord, Jeremy Legg, goes seriously awry with the unexpected return from Europe of Jeremy's ex-wife, Diane Stow, whose council flat Jeremy has been illegally renting out. Still more subplots (who fathered Sarah's daughter Clarissa?) and hints of old sins (how did her husband, Leo, really die?) filtered through unreliable memories and personalities give the neighborhood a sense of thick and vibrant life, though they virtually guarantee that the revelation of Sarah's killer will be only one more in a series of revelations that come not with a triumphant flourish but a dying fall. The insistence on plumbing the past makes this sedate, quirky whodunit read like an uneven collaboration between Rendell and her doomy alter ego Barbara Vine (The Child's Child, 2012, etc.).

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781476744490
Publisher:
Scribner
Publication date:
11/05/2013
Series:
Chief Inspector Wexford Series , #24
Sold by:
SIMON & SCHUSTER
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
15,707
File size:
1 MB

Read an Excerpt

No Man’s Nightingale

1


MAXINE WAS PROUD of having three jobs. These days more and more people had none. She had no sympathy for them but congratulated herself on her own initiative. Two mornings a week she cleaned for Mrs. Wexford, two mornings for Mrs. Crocker, afternoons for two other Kingsmarkham women, did gardening and cleaned cars for Mr. Wexford and Dr. Crocker and babysat every evening where she was wanted for those young enough to need a baby-sitter. Cleaning she did for the women and gardening and car-washing for the men because she had never believed in any of that feminism or equality stuff. It was a well-known fact that men didn’t notice whether a house was clean or not, and normal women weren’t interested in cars or lawns. Maxine charged maximum rates for baby-sitting except for her son and his partner, who got her services for free. As for the others, those who had kids must expect to pay for them. She’d had four and she knew.

She was a good worker, reliable, punctual, and reasonably honest, and the only condition she made was payment in cash. Wexford, who after all had until recently been a policeman, demurred at that but eventually gave in the way the tax inspector up the road did. After all, at least a dozen other households would have paid almost anything to secure Maxine’s services. She had one drawback. She talked. She talked not just while she was having a break for a cup of tea or while she was getting out or putting away the tools, but all the time she was working and to whoever happened to be in the room or upstairs in the kitchen. The work got done and efficiently while the words poured out on a steady monotone.

That day she began on a story of how her son Jason, now manager of the Kingsmarkham Questo supermarket, had dealt with a man complaining about one of Jason’s checkout girls. The woman had apparently called him “elderly.” But Jason had handled it brilliantly, pacifying the man and sending him home in a supervisor’s car. “Now my Jason used to be a right tearaway,” Maxine went on, and not for the first time. “Not in one of them gangs, I’m not saying that, and he never got no ASBOs, but a bit of shoplifting, it was like it came natural to him, and out all night and underage drinking—well, binge-drinking like they call it. As for the smack and what do they call them, description drugs—mind Mr. Wexford can’t hear me, hope he’s out of hearshot—all that he went in for, and now, since him and Nicky had a kid, he’s a changed character. The perfect dad, I still can’t believe it.” She applied impregnated wadding to the silver with renewed vigour, then a duster, then the wadding once more. “She’s over a year old now, his Isabella is, but when she was a neo-nettle, it was never Nicky got up to her in the night, she never had to. No, it was my Jason had her out of her cot before the first peep was out of her. Walked her up and down, cooing at her like I’ve never heard a bloke go on so. Mind you, that Nicky never showed no gratitude. I call it unnatural a mum with a new baby sleeping the night through, and I’ve told her so.”

Even Maxine sometimes had to pause to draw breath. Dora Wexford seized her opportunity, said she had to go out and Maxine’s money was in an envelope on the hall table. The resumed monologue pursued her as she ran out to the conservatory to tell her husband she’d be back in an hour or so.

Wexford was sitting in a cane armchair in autumn sunshine doing what many a man or woman plans to do on retirement but few put into practice, reading The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. He had embarked on it expecting to find it heavy going, but instead becoming fast enraptured and enjoying every word. Reaching the end of the first volume, he was happy to anticipate five more and told Dora she’d picked her moment to desert him.

“It’s your turn,” she whispered.

“I didn’t know we had a schedule.”

“You know now. Here starts your tour of duty.”

As Dora left, Maxine swooped, pushing the vacuum cleaner and continuing to hold on to it while she peered over his shoulder.

“Got a guide to Rome there, I see. Going there on your holidays, are you? Me and my sister took in Rome on our Ten Italian Cities tour. Oh, it was lovely but hot, you wouldn’t believe. I said to my Jason, you and Nicky want to go there on your honeymoon when you get around to tying the knot there’s no untying, only these days there is of course, no point in getting married if you ask me. I never did and I’m not ashamed of it.” She started up the vacuum cleaner but continued to talk. “It’s Nicky as wants it, one of them big white weddings like they all want these days, costs thousands, but she’s a big spender, good job my Jason’s in work like so many’s not.” The voice became a buzz under the vacuum’s roar. She raised it. “I don’t reckon my Jason’d go away on a honeymoon or anything else come to that without Isabella. He can’t bear that kid out of his sight for his eight hours’ work let alone a week. Talk about worshipping the ground she treads on, only she don’t tread yet, crawls more like.” A pause to change the tool on the end of the vacuum-cleaner hose. “You’ll know about that poor lady vicar getting herself killed and me finding the body. It was all over the papers and on the telly. I reckon you take an interest though you’re not doing the work no more. I had a cleaning job there with her up till a couple of weeks back, but there was things we never saw eye to eye on, not to mention her not wanting to pay cash, wanted to do it on line if you please and I couldn’t be doing with that. She always left the back door open and I popped in to collect the money she owed me and it gave me a terrible turn. No blood, of course, not with strangling, but still a shock. Don’t bear thinking of, does it? Still, I reckon you had to think of things like that, it being your job. You must be relieved getting all that over with . . .”

Standing up, clutching his book, “I’m going to have a bath!” Wexford shouted above the vacuum’s roar.

Maxine was startled from her monologue. “It’s ten thirty.”

“A very good time to have a bath,” said Wexford, making for the stairs, reading as he went the last lines of volume one, describing another murder, that of Julius Caesar: . . . during the greatest part of a year, the orb of the sun appeared pale and without splendour. This season of obscurity, which cannot surely be compared with the preternatural obscurity of the Passion, had already been celebrated by most of the poets and historians of that memorable age. . . .

His mobile was ringing. Detective Superintendent Burden, known to the phone-contacts list as Mike.

“I’m off to have a look at St. Peter’s Vicarage, taking Lynn with me and I thought you might like to come too.”

Wexford had already had a shower that day. A bath at 10:30 a.m. wasn’t needful, only seized upon as a refuge from Maxine. “I’d love to.” He tried to keep the enthusiasm out of his voice, tried and failed.

Sounding surprised, Burden said, “Don’t get excited. It’s no big deal.”

“It is for me.”

He closed the bathroom door. Probably, Maxine wouldn’t open it but would perhaps conclude that he was having an exceptionally long bath. The vacuum cleaner still roaring, he escaped out the front door, closing it after him by an almost silent turning of the key in the lock. Taking an interested member of the public—that, after all, was what he was—on a call or calls that were part of a criminal investigation was something Wexford had seldom done while he was himself an investigating officer. And his accompanying Superintendent Ede of the Met on the vault enquiries was a different matter as he, though unpaid, had had a kind of job as Ede’s aide. This visit, this opportune escape from Maxine, was undergone, he knew, because, once senior and junior officers, over the years they had become friends. Burden knew, none better, how much Wexford would wish to be involved in solving the mystery of who had killed the Reverend Sarah Hussain.

ALL WEXFORD KNEW of the death, apart from what Maxine had mentioned that morning, was what he had read in yesterday’s Guardian and seen on the day-before-yesterday’s regional television news. And seen of course when passing the vicarage. He could have seen more online, but he had cringed from its colourful headlines. Sarah Hussain was far from being the only woman ordained priest of the Church of England, but perhaps she was the only one to have been born in the United Kingdom of a white Irishwoman and an Indian immigrant. All this had been in the newspaper along with some limited biographical details, including information about her conversion to Christianity. There had been a photograph too of a gaunt woman with an aquiline nose in an academic cap and gown, olive-skinned but with large, deep-set, black eyes and what hair that showed a glossy jet-black. She had been forty-eight when she died and a single mother.

Her origins, her looks—striking but not handsome—her age, her single parenthood, and, above all, that conversion made him think that her life could not have been easy. He would have liked to know more, and no doubt, he soon would. At the moment he wasn’t even sure of where the murder had taken place, only that it was inside the vicarage. It wasn’t a house he had ever been in, though Dora had. He was due to meet Mike and DC Lynn Fancourt in St. Peter’s Church porch, the one at the side where the vestry was.

The vicarage was some distance away and he had no need to pass the church to reach it. Heading for the gate that led out of Queen Street, he passed a young man pushing a baby buggy, a not particularly unusual sight these days, but he recognized this one as Maxine’s son Jason. As industrious as his mother if not as vociferous, he must be having a day off from his job as a supermarket manager. Curious to see the child whose father worshipped the ground she crawled on, Wexford looked under the buggy hood and saw a pretty, pink-cheeked blonde, her long-lashed eyes closed in sleep. Wexford hastily withdrew his head from Jason’s glare. No doubt the man was wary of any male person eyeing his little girl. Quite right too, he thought, himself the parent of girls who were now middle-aged women.

He was a little early and by design. In his position it was better for him to be waiting for them than they for him. But Burden was seldom late, and the two of them appeared almost immediately from the high street. All the years he had known him, Wexford had never ceased to marvel at Burden’s sartorial elegance. Where did he learn to dress like that? As far as he knew, Mike went shopping no more than any other man of Wexford’s acquaintance. And it couldn’t be the influence of his wives, neither of whom, Jean, long dead, or Jenny, the present one, had had much interest in clothes, preferring in their own cases no more than attention to “neatness and fashion,” as Jane Austen has it. But here was Burden today, his abundant but short hair now iron grey, his beige jacket (surely cashmere) over white shirt with beige-and-blue-figured tie, his beautifully creased trousers of denim, though discernibly—how? How could one tell?—not jeans.

“Good to see you,” Burden said, though he had seen him and eaten lunch with him three days before.

Lynn, whom he hadn’t seen for as much as a year, said in a respectful tone, “Good morning, sir.”

They walked along the path among gravestones and rosebushes towards Vicarage Lane. It was October and the leaves had only just begun to fall. Green, spiky conkers lay on the grass under the chestnut trees.

“I don’t know how much you know about this poor woman’s murder, Reg,” Burden said.

“Only what I read in the paper and saw on TV.”

“You don’t go to church, do you?”

“I hesitate to say my wife does, though it’s true, and you know it already. She knew Sarah Hussain but through church, not socially. Where was she killed?”

“In the vicarage. In her living room. You tell him, Lynn. You were one of the two officers who were the first to see the body.”

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