The New York Times Book Review
Not in the Flesh (Chief Inspector Wexford Series #21)by Ruth Rendell
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/i>
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A new Chief Inspector Wexford mystery from the author who Time magazine has called “the best mystery writer in the English-speaking world.”
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.
From the Hardcover edition.
The New York Times Book Review
The New York Times
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.
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.
—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.”
“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 surprises...so shocking they dash all calculations.”
—The New York Times Book Review
Read an Excerpt
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? 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.’
His 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 neighbour-hood 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 possibly 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 neighbours 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 which 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 asa 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 semi-derelict bungalow which 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 carried the rewards for Honey unwrapped in the breast pocket of his leather jacket, he usually smelt 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 was) where he could see the flies himself.
‘Get digging, girl,’ he said.
The irregular warty lump, about the size of a tennis ball, which Honey unearthed she willingly relinquished in exchange for the cube of sirloin steak Jim took out of a hygienic ziplock bag he had brought with him.
‘This old fungus must weigh a good half-pound,’ he said aloud. ‘Keep on with the good work, Honey.’
Honey kept on. The truffle flies annoyed her and she snapped at the swarms, scattering them and snuffling towards where they had been densest. There she began digging again, fetched out of the rich leaf mould first a much smaller truffle, then one about the size of a large potato and was rewarded once more with pieces of sirloin.
‘There’s a lot more flies buzzing about over there,’ Jim said, pointing to a biggish beech tree which looked a hundred years old. ‘How about moving on?’
Honey had no intention of moving on. So might a diamond prospector refuse to abandon the lode where gems worth a fortune had already come to light, until he was sure the seam had been exhausted. Honey sniffed, dug, slapped at the flies with her paws, dug again. No more truffles were foraged and the object which she had unearthed was of no interest to her. It lay exposed on the chestnut-coloured soil, white, fanlike, unmistakeably what it was, a human hand.
Or, rather, the bones of a human hand, flesh, skin, veins, tendons all gone.
‘Oh, my lord, girl,’ said Jim Belbury, ‘whatever have you gone and found?’
As if she understood, Honey stopped digging, sat down and put her head on one side. Jim patted her. He put the three truffles in the plastic bag he had brought with him for that purpose, placed the bag inside his backpack and removed from it his mobile phone. Jim might be an old countryman, once an agricultural labourer and living in a cottage with no bathroom and no main drainage, but still he would no more have gone out without his mobile than would his fifteen-year-old great-nephew. Unaware of the number of Kingsmarkham police station, he dialled 999.
The thing that had come out of the pit lay exposed for them to see, a bunch of bones that looked more than anything like broomsticks, a skull to which scraps of decomposed tissue still adhered, all wrapped in purple cotton. They had been digging for two hours, an operation watched by Jim Belbury and his dog.
‘Man or woman?’ Chief Inspector Wexford asked.
‘Hard to say.’ The pathologist was a young woman who looked like a fifteen-year-old model, thin, tall, pale and other-worldly. ‘I’ll tell you when I’ve taken a closer look.’
‘How long has it been there?’
Carina Laxton eyed Wexford and his sergeant, DS Hannah Goldsmith who had asked the question. ‘And how long have you two been in the Force? Isn’t it about time you knew I can’t give you an immediate answer when a cadaver’s obviously been buried for years?’
‘OK but is it months or decades?’
‘Maybe one decade. What I can tell you is you’re wasting your time taking all these measurements and photographs as if someone put it there last week.’
‘Maybe Mr Belbury can help us there,’ said Wexford. He had decided not to mention the fact that Jim Belbury was trespassing, had probably been trespassing for years. ‘Did your dog ever dig here before?’
‘Not on this spot, no,’ said Jim. ‘Over there where there’s more bigger trees. Can I ask you if you reckon it’s what you call foul play?’
Wexford was tempted to say, well, no, you can’t, but he relented. ‘Someone buried him or her, so you have to–’ he began but Hannah interrupted him.
‘Law-abiding people don’t bury bodies they find lying about, you know,’ she said sharply. ‘Perhaps you should be on your way, Mr Belbury. Thank you, you’ve been very helpful.’
But Jim wasn’t to be dismissed so easily. Finding Wexford sympathetic and everyone else — Hannah, the scene-of-crime officer, the photographers, the pathologist and various policemen — of no account, he began giving the chief inspector details of all the houses and their occupants in the vicinity. ‘That’s Mr Tredown’s place next door and down there’s the Hunters and the Pickfords. Over the other side that’s Mr Borodin. I’ve lived in Flagford all my life. There’s nothing I don’t know.’
‘Then you can tell me who owns this land.’ Wexford extended his arm and waved his hand. ‘Must be at least an acre.’
His politically correct sergeant murmured something about hectares being a more appropriate measurement ‘in the present day’ but no one took much notice of her.
‘An acre and a half,’ said Jim with a glare at Hannah. ‘We don’t have no hectares round here. Them belongs in the Common Market.’ Like many people of his age, Jim still referred in this way to the European Union. ‘Who owns it? Well, Mr Grimble, innit? This here is Old Grimble’s Field.’
Though he might possibly be compounding a felony, seeing that the subterranean fungi in the bag properly belonged to this Grimble, Wexford thanked Jim and offered him a lift home in a police car.
‘And my dog?’ said Jim.
‘And your dog.’
His offer gratefully accepted, he and Hannah moved away, heading for the road where police vehicles were parked along the pavement. It became, within a short distance, Flagford High Street, a somewhat too picturesque village centre where stood the thirteenth-century church, a post office and general store, a shop which sold mosaic tabletops, another purveying lime-flower honey and mulberry conserve, and a number of flint-walled cottages, one thatched and another with its own bell tower.
Wexford, in the car, said to Hannah that, for all the times he had been to Flagford, he couldn’t remember noticing that piece of land before.
‘I don’t think I’ve ever been here before, guv,’ said Hannah.
He had grown accustomed to her calling him that and supposed she had originally got it off the television. The Bill, probably. Not that he liked it, while admitting it was current usage, but the trouble was all his officers had learnt it from her and now no one kept to the old ‘sir’. Burden would know who owned that land. He had a relative living in Flagford, his first wife’s cousin, Wexford thought it was.
‘There’s not much to be done,’ Hannah was saying, ‘until we know how long that body’s been there.’
‘Let’s hope Carina will know by later today.’
‘Meanwhile I could find out more about this Grimble and if he owns the old house on it.’
‘Right, but let me talk to Mr Burden first.’
Hannah directed one of her looks at him. She was a beautiful young woman, black-haired, white-skinned, with large brown eyes which softened into a quite disproportionate pitying sorrow combined with a desire to reproach him gently whenever he committed the solecism of using terms or styles she thought obsolete. ‘Mister Burden, oh, come,’ her glance said while the perfect lips stayed closed. Their relative ranks made reproach impossible but glances were free. As Wexford himself might have said, a cat may look at a king.
It was a gentle sunny day, what weather forecasters were starting to call ‘quiet’ weather, the temperature high for September, all the leaves still on the trees and most of them still green. Summer flowers in pots and urns and window boxes still bloomed on and on, more luxuriantly than in August. Frosts were due, frosts would normally have come by now but none had. If this was global warming, and Wexford thought it must be, it disguised its awful face under a mask of mild innocence. The sky had become the milky blue of midsummer covered with tiny white puffs of cloud.
He called Burden a moment after he got into the police station but the inspector’s voicemail told him he was occupied in an interview room. That would be his interview with Darrel Fincher, the teenager found with a knife on him. You could predict, without hearing a word of their conversation, what the boy would say: that he carried the knife for protection, that going home from school or going out in the evening he wouldn’t feel safe without a knife. It was ‘all them Somalis’, he would say. They were everywhere and they all had knives. That was what they called dark-skinned people these days, ‘them Somalis’ as they had once indiscriminately called Asians ‘them Pakis’. Wexford turned his thoughts to the Flagford corpse. With luck, it wouldn’t have been there for more than a year or two and would turn out to be that chap he could remember going missing a while back after a ram raid on a jeweller’s or the old woman who lived alone in a Forby cottage. After failing to visit her for three months her daughter had remembered her existence but on going there had found her apparently long gone. One of them it would most likely be. Strange, he thought, that death and subsequent decay wipe away age and sex and every distinguishing feature so that nothing is left but bones and a rag or two. And a hand, unearthed by an enthusiastic mongrel. How comforting it must have been when men and women (or women and men, as Hannah would say) believed that the body is but a sheath for the spirit which, at the point of death, flies away to some afterlife or paradise. It would hardly matter to you then, if your faith were strong enough, that you met your death from the blade of a knife, a bludgeon or because your heart gave its final beat in the natural course of things.
He came down to earth from these post-mortem reflections when his office door opened and Burden walked in. ‘That bit of land at Flagford where the dog-walker found a body? Of course I know who owns it. Everybody knows.’
‘I don’t,’ said Wexford. ‘And what d’you mean, everybody knows? It’s not the Tower of London, it’s not Harrods.’
‘I mean this guy it belongs to tells everyone how hard done by he is by the planning people. His name’s Grimble, John Grimble. He’s even had a piece about himself in the Courier. He’s obsessed. His father died — well, his stepfather it was — and left him the bungalow and the land it’s on and ever since he’s been trying to get planning permission to build houses on it. He thinks he’s been badly treated — that’s an understatement — because they’ll let him build one but not more.’
‘Where does he live?’
From the Hardcover edition.
Meet the Author
RUTH RENDELL has won numerous awards, including three Edgars, the highest accolade from Mystery Writers of America, as well as three Gold Daggers, a Silver Dagger, and a Diamond Dagger for outstanding contribution to the genre from England’s prestigious Crime Writer’s Association. A member of the House of Lords, she lives in London.
From the Hardcover edition.
- Date of Birth:
- February 17, 1930
- Place of Birth:
- London, England
- Loughton County High School for Girls, Essex
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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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
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.
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.
Inspector Wexford does it again but there are no obvious suspects or obvious red herrings. just mystery at it's best
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.
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.
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.
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.
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