Not in the Flesh (Chief Inspector Wexford Series #21)

( 17 )


"When the truffle-hunting dog starts to dig furiously, his master's first reaction is delight at the size of the clump the dog has unearthed: at the going rate, this one truffle might be worth several hundred pounds. Then the dirt falls away to reveal not a precious mushroom but the bones and tendons of what is clearly a human hand." "In Not in the Flesh, Chief Inspector Wexford tries to piece together events that took place eleven years earlier, a time when someone was secretly interred in a secluded patch of English countryside. Now Wexford and ...
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Not in the Flesh (Chief Inspector Wexford Series #21)

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"When the truffle-hunting dog starts to dig furiously, his master's first reaction is delight at the size of the clump the dog has unearthed: at the going rate, this one truffle might be worth several hundred pounds. Then the dirt falls away to reveal not a precious mushroom but the bones and tendons of what is clearly a human hand." "In Not in the Flesh, Chief Inspector Wexford tries to piece together events that took place eleven years earlier, a time when someone was secretly interred in a secluded patch of English countryside. Now Wexford and his team will need to interrogate everyone who lives nearby to see if they can turn up a match for the dead man among the eighty-five people in this part of England who have disappeared over the past decade. Then, when a second body is discovered nearby, Wexford experiences a feeling that's become a rarity for the veteran policeman: surprise." As Wexford painstakingly moves to resolve these multiple mysteries, long-buried secrets are brought to daylight, and Ruth Rendell once again proves why she has been hailed as our greatest living mystery writer.
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Editorial Reviews

Marilyn Stasio
In the best whodunit tradition, Rendell advances her plot through surprises, some transparent enough to satisfy the engaged reader, others so shocking they dash all calculations.
—The New York Times Book Review
Janet Maslin
Ruth Rendell published From Doon with Death, the first of her Chief Inspector Wexford novels, in 1964. So it is not surprising that the old boy finds himself in codgerly company these days. Ms. Rendell has ghoulish fun with the assorted elderly, eccentric characters who bedevil him in Not in the Flesh, which is only the third of her Wexford books to appear in this present century. When not chronicling the exploits of this unflappable police detective, Ms. Rendell has written vigorous, clever stand-alone fiction (most notably The Water's Lovely last year). But the Wexford books, while more restrained, amount to reunions with an old chum.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

In addition to solving two long-ago murders, Chief Inspector Wexford is troubled by female genital mutilation in the local Somali community. The temptation would be to cut the subplot, but this abridgment retains the richness of the novel. Tim Curry's performance is splendid, even better than Daniel Gerroll's excellent performance of Rendell's End in Tears. Curry does a particularly marvelous job with the minor characters, such as the two wives-in-law of a local author, who cackle at the sexual innuendos of their own jokes. Then there's 84-year-old Irene McNeil, alternately supercilious and weepy. Throw in the obsessive Grimbles, on whose land the bodies were found; some migrant fruit-picking Roma; Wexford's family; Somali immigrants; and Curry somehow sounds like a full-cast audio. If only Wexford sounded less like his assistant Burden, the performance would be absolutely perfect. A Crown hardcover (reviewed online). (July)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

The prolific Rendell (or Barbara Vine, depending on what you're reading) offers her 21st Chief Inspector Wexford novel. Readers watch as a truffle-hunting suburbanite and his dog stumble across a long-buried body on a vacant property. Upon investigation, Wexford and his team uncover a second murder victim in the basement of the abandoned house on the property. The crimes were committed so long ago that the bodies themselves yield few clues, but the neighbors all seem to have reasons to be cast in a suspicious light. Wexford embarks on an arduous probe in an effort to unravel the mystery, encountering along the way the usual odd assortment of characters. Interspersed in his investigation is an odd subplot involving the genital mutilation of young Somali immigrants in Britain. As always, Wexford endures modern (and in his opinion, less civilized) British society and patiently prods his suspects until they reveal all. Not quite as compelling in tone as some of Rendell's other works but complex enough to satisfy any mystery fan. Recommended for all public libraries.
—Caroline Mann

Kirkus Reviews
Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford and his Kingsmarkham colleagues (End in Tears, 2005, etc.) deal with not one but two bodies of men whose relatives long ago gave up hope of ever hearing from them again. Jim Belbury's truffle dog makes the first discovery: a man interred 11 years ago in a drainage ditch. John Grimble and his friend Bill Runge had dug the ditch back when Grimble expected permission to replace the tumbledown house on Old Grimble's Field with four new homes. They filled in the ditch when permission was denied. DI Mike Burden, searching the boarded-up house, finds a second corpse, this one waiting eight years in its underclothes to be found. Ancient former neighbor Irene McNeil tells Wexford that her late husband Ron shot the intruder in self-defense when he brandished a knife, and for a time it seems that the killers may be easier to identify than the victims. New inquiries into open missing-persons cases and repeated conversations with other neighbors-especially dying fantasy novelist Owen Tredown and the two wives, present and past, who live with him-only deepen the mystery. Back in the present, Wexford's daughter Sheila, cast in the starring role in a film adaptation of Tredown's most famous book, tries to enlist her father in the battle against the circumcision of young Somali girls in the neighborhood-a episode that at least hints at a happy ending. Rich, tangled and as sharply observed as ever.
From the Publisher
“Ghoulish fun.... The height of her malevolent powers. Rendell can do whatever she likes and still get away with it.”
The New York Times

“Vivid and witty. Wexford is his usual smart, compassionate self as he unravels a web of lies and deception larger than any of the characters realize.”
Los Angeles Times

“To call Ruth Rendell prolific is akin to calling the Grand Canyon a slight dip in the landscape. . . . Not in the Flesh is the work of a writer who continues to command respect and satisfy her legion of writers.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch

“The unflappable detective still hasn’t worn out his welcome.... A fine example of Rendell’s sharp writing, intelligence, and humanity.”
The Christian Science Monitor

“In the best whodunit tradition, Rendell advances her plot through shocking they dash all calculations.”
The New York Times Book Review

From the Trade Paperback edition.

The Barnes & Noble Review
Veteran of 21 novels, Chief Inspector Wexford entered the world in 1964's From Doon with Death, Ruth Rendell's very first book. Since then he has seen it all: crimes of passion, greed, neglect, convenience, and madness; lives extinguished and shattered; his own wife kidnapped. He has borne up under it, and yet there are things out there undermining his spirit: being called "guv" instead of "sir" is one. Coping with the Internet and, indeed, computers in general, and having to measure the world in centimeters instead of inches are some more. He also doesn't like calling people he doesn't know by their given names -- and he doesn't like it that no one knows what a "given name" is any more. Men's failure to wear neckties and the disappearance of putting milk in tea make him melancholy. And he simply loathes the expression "Hi, how're you?" ("When this vacuous greeting started to become commonplace, Wexford resolved not to answer it in any circumstances.") The great man's inner grousing on the decline of everything has grown so routine in recent years that I think we can call him a codger -- though anyone would rather spend time with him if the alternative were the company of his ferociously up-to-date, politically correct sidekick, Detective Sergeant Hannah Goldsmith.

In the present volume, Wexford and his team -- the members and their little ways well known to Rendell fans -- have been called over from Kingsmarkham to nearby Flagford with its "somewhat too picturesque village center." Here a body, clearly buried years ago, has been discovered by a man and his dog out searching for truffles. It lies in land left untended ever since its owner, John Grimble, a cheesy builder, was refused planning permission to tear down the existing house and replace it with four of his own slipshod constructions. Wexford visits Grimble at home, accompanied by his colleague, the consummate clotheshorse Inspector Mike Burden ("charcoal trousers with a knife-edge crease and a stone-colored polo neck under a linen jacket"). And thus we enter the first of the book's many dwellings, the precise and evocative depiction of whose interiors and furnishings is one of Rendell's great gifts and always a means of showing her characters' souls. In this case we find Grimble and his wife, both only around 50 but resolutely embracing the lethargy of old age, "anchored to orthopedic armchairs, the kind that have back supports and adjustable footrests, placed in the best position for perpetual television watching."

Wexford and his troop find similar unloveliness and spiritual poverty as they visit additional people for questioning. Among these are the curdling snob Mrs. McNeil, a widow who moved with her late husband, for obscure reasons, from a grand house to starkly modern quarters that are dislocation incarnate; the Hunters, living in sweltering heat and near senility; a Somali refugee family, the Imrans, whose apartment in a council-housing tower block is neat as a pin and a scene of order -- yet they seem intent on effecting the genital mutilation of their five-year-old daughter. This last makes up a free-standing subplot providing both a dose of hideous suspense and a very Rendellian glimpse of the quandaries attendant on a multicultural Britain.

At the tangled center of the much-populated story are Owen Tredown, a bestselling author of fantasy novels set in ancient times who is dying of cancer, and his two wives. They are the former Mrs. Tredown, Claudia Ricardo, an aging hippy and "ravaged beauty," and her successor, Maeve, "small and round with a face like a pretty piglet's." There is something decidedly rum about her in particular, and Wexford feels "that if he had been shown a photograph of her and told that she was the matron of a notoriously cruel old people's home or the director of a brutal boot camp, he wouldn't have been surprised. It was all to do with her economical and clipped speech, the iciness in her light blue eyes, and the severe gray flannel suit that she wore." These three live in unwholesome propinquity in a vast and dreadful Victorian house, "unprepossessing, large, ill-proportioned, mainly of purplish-red brick, roofed in bright blue-gray slates and with Gothic ogee-topped windows of buff-colored stone. The front door might have been a church doorway, dark brown, black-iron-studded." As for the inside, it "confirmed Wexford's opinion that Victorian builders (architects?) had gone out of their way to make their interiors hideous." It is not to be expected that all is sweetness and light in this venue.

Before the first body is identified through the miracle of DNA testing, another one shows up, this, too, disposed of years ago, and matters become even more complicated -- matters I do not feel free to discuss for fear of revealing more than is honorable. As it happens, this is not one of Rendell's better conceived and constructed mysteries, for a couple of reasons. In the first place, while DNA testing is one of the few modern advances to leave Wexford unruffled, it has been a blow to crime novels, replacing sleuthing with waiting around for the results -- time spent, as here, in make-work. In the second place, the motive for the first murder is one that unquestionably fascinates writers but has never, to my knowledge, prompted a murder in real life. Rendell works valiantly to make the ins and outs of the commission of the crime -- crimes, I should say -- complex enough to be satisfying, but I can't say that she quite pulls it off.

Still, if this is not first-rate Rendell, there is much pleasure to be had from it, especially for old Wexford hands. We catch up on DS Hannah Goldsmith's relationship with Bal Bhattacharya, DI Mike Burden's wardrobe, DS Barry Vine's opera collection, DC Damon Coleman's trials as a black man, DC Lyn Fancourt's struggle with her weight and Wexford's to maintain his doctor-mandated regime of walking and taking a glass of red wine instead of a pint. We are clued in to Wexford's daughter Sylvia's acting career, and, last but not least, to the look and feel of England as it hobbles along in the first decade of the 21st century. --Katherine A. Powers

Katherine A. Powers writes the literary column "A Reading Life" for the Boston Sunday Globe and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307388780
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/2/2009
  • Series: Chief Inspector Wexford Series , #21
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 692,634
  • Product dimensions: 5.15 (w) x 7.97 (h) x 0.69 (d)

Meet the Author

Ruth Rendell
Ruth Rendell has won many awards, including the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger for 1976’s best crime novel with A Demon in My View; a second Edgar in 1984 from the Mystery Writers of America for the best short story, The New Girl Friend; and a Gold Dagger for Live Flesh in 1986. She was also the winner of the 1990 Sunday Times Literary Award, as well as the Crime Writers Cartier Diamond Dagger Award. In 1996 she was awarded the CBE and in 1997 became a life peer.

From the Hardcover edition.


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

Chapter One

Tom Belbury died in May and now that summer was over his brother missed him more than ever. Neither of them had married, so there was no widow and no children, only the dog, Honey. Jim took Honey to live with him; he had always liked her and it was what Tom had wanted. When he knew he hadn't long to live he worried a lot about Honey, what would happen to her after he was gone, and though Jim assured him repeatedly that he would take her, Tom said it again and again.

"Haven't I promised over and over?" Jim asked. "You want me to put it in writing and get it witnessed? I will if that's what you want."

"No, I trust you. She's a good dog."

Tom's trust hadn't been misplaced. Jim lived in the cottage that had been the brothers' parents' home and there Honey went to live with him. She was no beauty, owing her ancestry to an apparent mix of spaniel, basset hound, and Jack Russell. Tom used to say she looked like a corgi and everyone knew corgis were the Queen's dogs, having so to speak the royal seal of approval, but Jim couldn't see it. Nevertheless, he had grown attached to Honey. Apart from fidelity and affection, she had one great virtue. She was a truffle dog.

Every September, at the beginning of the month, Tom and Honey used to go into one patch of woodland or another in the neighborhood of Flagford and hunt for truffles. A lot of people scoffed. They said truffles couldn't be found in Britain, only in France and Italy, but there was no doubt Honey found them, was rewarded with a lump of meat, and Tom sold the truffles to a famous London restaurant for £200 a pound.

Jim disliked the taste but he liked the idea of £200 and pos- sibly more. He had never been truffle-hunting with Tom but he knew how it was done. This was why a mild and sunny morning in late September found him and Honey in what their neighbors called the posh part of Flagford where Flagford Hall faced Athelstan House across Pump Lane, each amid extensive grounds. They had no interest in these houses or their occupants. They were heading for Old Grimble's Field that filled the corner between the gardens of Athelstan House and two identical detached houses called Oak Lodge and Marshmead.

Like the Holy Roman Empire, which Gibbon said was neither holy, Roman, nor an empire, this open space wasn't a field, nor was Grimble particularly old or really called Grimble. It was an overgrown piece of land, about an acre of what estate agents describe as a corner plot. Due to years of inattention, saplings had grown into trees, shrubs into bushes, roses and privet and dogwood into hedges, and trees had doubled in size. Somewhere in the middle of this burgeoning woodland stood a semiderelict bungalow that had belonged to Grimble's father, its windows boarded up, its roof slowly shedding its tiles. Tom Belbury had been there truffle- hunting with Honey the year before and pronounced it rich in members of the genus Tuber.

Because Tom had carried the rewards for Honey unwrapped in the breast pocket of his leather jacket, he usually smelled of meat that was slightly "off." Jim hadn't much liked it at the time, but now he recalled it with affection. How pleased dear old Tom would be to see him and Honey heading for Old Grimble's Field in close companionship, following his old pursuit. Perhaps he could see, Jim thought sentimentally, and imagined him looking down from whatever truffle wood in the sky he found himself in.

Honey was the director of operations. Tom used to claim that she was drawn to a particular spot by the presence of truffle flies hovering around the base of a tree, and now she led Jim to a mature tree (a sycamore, he thought it...

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 17 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 18 of 17 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer


    This audio book is more than a double treat, it's a sure fire can't-stop-listening-to winner when you pair the estimable acting talents of Tim Curry as narrator and the award winning writing of Ruth Rendell. Curry won many of us with his unforgettable debut in the cult film The Rocky Horror Picture Show. He has made numerous screen appearances since then, playing diverse roles in such films as Kinsey, Charlie's Angels, The Hunt for Red October and Annie. This actor simply can't be pigeon-holed - on stage he has been nominated thrice for a Tony. His audio book narrations are as diverse as his professional career ranging from children's titles to science fiction to romance to fantasy and, of course, this stellar rendering of Not In The Flesh. For starters Curry has a wonderful voice, low, deep, strong. It is malleable, if you will, easily moving from tone to tone, intonation to intonation. Born in Britain he retains a hint of a British accent which, of course, serves us well in this story. What more can be said about Ruth Rendell or how much more praise can be heaped upon her? Surely she has numerous mantels to accommodate all her awards, among them are three Edgars, three Gold Daggers, a Silver Dagger, and on it goes. For this reader/listener Inspector Wexford is one of her finest creations. Wexford was introduced to us some 35 years ago and by now he's an old friend to many. 'Old' is a key word here as he's grown a bit more codger-like with the passage of time, yet just as sharp, clever, and opinionated as ever. This time out a truffle hunter and his sniffing dog are having great good luck in the Sussex countryside - that is until the competent canine unearths what's left of a human hand. It's left to Wexford to identify the deceased who has probably been hidden in the ground for over a decade. Another confounding problem for the master detective is the inordinate number of people in that area who have simply vanished. As always Rendell's cast of characters is pure delight from close-mouthed residents to workmen who may or may not have seen anything to a downright nasty old lady with 'loglike swollen legs.' To read a work by Rendell is stay-up-late pleasure to hear it is prime time entertainment. - Gail Cooke

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 24, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Rendell Reigns

    The Inspector Wexford series has maintained a high level throughout and surely Ruth Rendell is among the best of mystery writers. As always, Wexford is so real that we feel the emotions he feels as this case progresses. Some have criticized the inclusion of the very real & sad issue of female mutilation, but shouldn't we be aware of what is happening in our world? It's not a subject I would choose to study, but as part of this fiction story Rendell has once again raised our awareness. An excellent, well-written adddition to a
    top-notch series.

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  • Posted October 10, 2011

    Save your money....

    I agree with 4everyone on this one. There were too many characters and no accountability. Also the Somali issue was out of place. Maybe it would have been a better fit if one of the families involved in the actual mystery was Somalian. I found myself skipping through that whole bit.

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  • Posted March 21, 2010

    The second of two British novel recently read. Hope I have learned my lesson-don't try another.

    As always the British appear to provide beautiful descriptions of surroundings. Zany characters who get away with too much. Too many relationships destroyed. Too few held accountable.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 27, 2009

    Excellent Rendell Mystery

    Inspector Wexford does it again but there are no obvious suspects or obvious red herrings. just mystery at it's best

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    The Wexford series is fun

    Rendell's characters are appealing, and the novels have good story lines. Wexford seems to be a nice normal person with normal, everyday concerns as part of the back stories. (as compared to the ever so upper class Lynley of Elizabeth George's series).
    I think part of the appeal is that the regulars in Rendell's books could be our friends and neighbors.
    As a member of a women's service organization, I found the side story into the struggle against female genital mutilation well done. It was there and presented the horror without being overbearing, as is so often the case when a writer tries to add a political cause to the story.

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  • Posted January 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Cold case

    Reg Wexford is one of the good guys in English crime fiction. Humane and genuine, he has managed to avoid become jaded during the course of his long career. In Not in the Flesh, Wexford and his capable staff must grapple with the discovery of not one, but two, long dead bodies, in a secluded little village. There is no dearth of suspects among the eccentric, somewhat reclusive inhabitants. A compelling subplot centers upon the practice of female genital mutilation among England's Somali immigrant population. While this custom is against British law, many Somali families nevertheless find secretive ways to modify the bodies of their daughters. Wexford's daughter appeals to her father to help stem the practice.<BR/>It is a pleasure to follow Wexford and his team as they, first, ferret out clues to crimes that occurred, in secret, a decade ago. Secondly, they must fit the disparate pieces into a coherent pattern, despite their certain knowledge that many of their interview subjects are less than truthful. The resolution of these plots relies upon coincidence in places, but the writing and the characterizations are so sharp that it's worth overlooking that factor. Careful attention is required to follow the twists and turns of this investigation.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    an engaging investigative tale

    Digging for truffles Jim Belbury and his late brother¿s Jack Russell Honey find something they were unprepared to come across. Instead of truffles they find a corpse buried on a vacant lot. He calls Information who get him connected to the Kingsmarkham police station. Chief Inspector Wexford leads the investigation in which he does not need forensics experts to tell him the body was interred a long time ago. Inside the basement of the abandoned building on this same property the police team finds a second murder victim also dead for quite a long time.------------- There is little useful evidcne at either crime scene so the team begins to slowly and methodically interview the neighbors who offer little help, but most act somewhat suspciously as if they are hiding something pertinent or another crime. Resolving the double homicides seems to be going nowhere, but Wexford keeps digging uncovering clues that begin to shape the case.----------------- There is a second investigation involving genital mutilation of Somali immigrants that add to this strong Wexford police procedural. Wexford calmly interrogates eccentrics while opining to the readers that civilization is dying due to modernization his proof is the people he interviews. NOT IN THE FLESH is an engaging investigative tale as the case unfolds slowly one clue at a time.--------------- Harriet Klausner

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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