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Road Rage (Chief Inspector Wexford Series #17)

Road Rage (Chief Inspector Wexford Series #17)

4.2 5
by Ruth Rendell

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Winner of multiple Edgar and Gold Dagger awards including the most prestigious Edgar of them all, the Grand Master, Ruth Rendell returns with a novel that pits Chief Inspector Wexford against a quite personal foe: the environmental terrorists who kidnap and threaten the lives of five hostages--including Wexford's own wife.

As Road Rage begins, Chief Inspector


Winner of multiple Edgar and Gold Dagger awards including the most prestigious Edgar of them all, the Grand Master, Ruth Rendell returns with a novel that pits Chief Inspector Wexford against a quite personal foe: the environmental terrorists who kidnap and threaten the lives of five hostages--including Wexford's own wife.

As Road Rage begins, Chief Inspector Wexford is walking through Framhurst Great Wood, just outside his beloved town of Kingsmarkham, for what he tells himself will be the last time. He can no longer bear to look at the natural beauty that will soon be despoiled by the construction of a new highway. Wexford rather despairs of the project; his more sanguine wife, Dora, is active on a committee to save the threatened land. Others are more desperate to achieve their end, and their means include the taking of hostages, including Dora, and the threat to begin murdering them.

How Wexford and his dedicated team of police officers race against time to learn the identity of the kidnappers and discover the whereabouts of the hostages will rivet readers who delight in following the intricate details of an intensive police investigation. But, as in every Ruth Rendell novel, the mortal drama raises political and moral questions that are not resolved with the closing of the case, and that apply far beyond the limits of Kingsmarkham.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Ruth Rendell can never be accused of writing cozy English mysteries. Even her more traditional detective novels starring Inspector Reginald Wexford are set in a gritty, contemporary Britain beset by unemployment, racial tension, and urban crime. In the absorbing and timely Road Rage, ecoterrorists protesting a new highway bypass take five hostages -- including Wexford's wife.

—Dick Lochte

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The latest Inspector Wexford tale (following Simisola, 1995) from the redoubtable Rendell has a spectacularly unexpected twist. His wife, Dora, usually a sensible but taken-for-granted background decoration, moves to center stage as a kidnap victim. It's all part of a plot by aggressive defenders of the English landscape to forestall a planned bypass (read superhighway) through some of the lovelier scenery around Kingsmarkham, Wexford's stomping ground. These terrorists on behalf of nature take a group of hostages (Dora being accidentally among them) and threaten to kill them one by one unless their demands to end highway construction are met. Wexford is not stayed from pursuing the villains with his customary thoughtful vigor, but Dora's involvement gives him a whole new perspective on her importance in his life, and his anguish is made extremely moving. It is as human drama rather than conventional mystery that Rendell's books usually excel anyway, and this is no exception. The machinations of the highway saboteurs may be a bit hard to swallow, and the plot is wound up with a rather mechanical adroitness; but such eternal questions as enduring marital affection and love of the English countryside are the engines that make this Wexford outing move in Rendell's usual absorbing way. (Sept.)
Library Journal
In Rendell's latest Inspector Wexford mystery, opposition to a proposed bypass escalates into the taking of hostagesincluding the inspector's wife.
Kirkus Reviews
Rendell's evolution from the unnervingly focused analyst of plausible psychoses to the more outward chronicler who uses crime to diagnose the ills of contemporary Britain—one of the glories of today's mystery fiction—continues in a masterful tale of eco- terrorism that chills Chief Inspector Wexford as none of his earlier cases have. In order to protest the building of an unsightly and disruptive new bypass around Kingsmarkham, a band of eco-terrorists calling themselves the Sacred Globe take five hostages and threaten to kill them one by one unless Her Majesty's Government agrees to abandon plans for the bypass. The hostages, kidnapped in an unusually inventive way, include an inoffensive older couple, an aspiring model, a teenaged boy, and Wexford's wife Dora, snatched on her way to visit her newest grandchild. Rendell places her hero's nerve-racking attempts to track Sacred Globe to their lair within a vast canvas that makes room for each of the victims' agonized relatives, half a dozen environmental organizations of subtly different stripes, a marvelously shaded group portrait of Wexford's troops—and a subplot involving a slain German hitchhiker, the discovery of whose body comes as an especially nasty surprise to readers so thorougly caught up in the other characters' issues and lives.

Rendell's most probing and ambitious book since—well, since Wexford's Edgar-winning last appearance in Simisola (1995).

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Chief Inspector Wexford Series , #17
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Random House
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2 MB

Read an Excerpt

"We're unhappy about the spiking of the trees," Dora Wexford said on her return from a meeting of KABAL. "Apparently the chain saws can come apart and maul workman's arms. Isn't that an awful thought?"

"This is just the beginning," her husband said.

"What do you mean, Reg?"

"Remember Newbury? They had to get in six hundred security guards to protect the contractors. And someone cut the brake pipe on a coach carrying the guards to the site."

"Have you talked to anyone who actually wants this bypass?"

"I can't say I have," said Wexford.

"Do you want it?"

"You know I don't. But I'm not prepared to give up driving a car. I'm not happy about sitting in traffic jams and feeling my blood pressure go up. Like most of us, I want to eat my cake and have it." He sighed. "I daresay Mike wants it."

"Oh Mike," she said, but affectionately.

Wexford had broken his resolution not to go back to Framhurst Great Wood. The first time he went was to watch wildlife experts building new badger setts (with ramps and swing doors like cat flaps)in the heart of the wood. The tree houses in the second camp were already being built, which was perhaps enough to drive the badgers to their new homes. The second time was after the tree fellers refused to endanger their lives by using chain saws on trees whose trunks were embedded with nails or bound with wire. A few felled trees lay about. The highways agency was seeking eviction orders against the tree dwellers, but meanwhile another camp took shape at Elder Ditches and then another on the borders of the Great Wood.

Wexford climbed up Savesbury Hill, again, he told himself, for the last time, from where the four camps could clearly be seen. One was almost at the foot of the hill, one half a mile away at Framhurst Copses, a third on the threatened verge of the marsh, and the fourth and farthest away half a mile from the northernmost reaches of Stowerton. The countryside still looked much as it always had, except that a field in the neighborhood of Pomfret Monachorum was packed with earthmoving equipment, diggers and bulldozers. These things were almost always painted yellow, he reflected, a dull, dead yellow, the color of custard that had been kept in the fridge too long. Presumably yellow showed up better against green than red or blue.

He walked downhill on the far side, then wished he hadn't, for he found himself up to his thighs in stinging nettles. Their hairy pointed leaves failed to sting through his clothes but he had to keep his arms and hands held high. The nettles filled an area as big as a small meadow and Wexford was thinking that if the road had to go somewhere it would be no badthing for it to pass through here, when he saw the butterfly.

That it was Araschnia levana, he knew at once. Among all the tens of thousands of words that had been written lately about Savesbury and Framhurst, he remembered reading that Araschnia fed on stinging nettles in Savesbury Deeps. He advanced a little until he was a yard from it. The butterfly was orange-colored, with a chocolate-brown pattern and flashes of white, and the underwings had a sky-blue riverlike border. You could see why it was called the Map.

It was alone. There were only two hundred of them, perhaps now not so many. When he was a child people had caught butterflies in nets, gassed them in killing bottles, attached them to cards on pins. It seemed appalling now. Only a few years ago people who opposed bypasses were looked on as cranks, loony weirdos, hippie dropouts, and their activities on par with anarchy, communism and mayhem. That too had changed. Conventional figures of the Establishment were as determined in their opposition as that man he could now see peering out between canvas flaps through the fork in a tree branch. Someone had told him that Sir Fleance and Lady McTear had marched in a demonstration organized by supermarket millionaires Wael and Anouk Khoori.

Like most Englishmen he had his reservations about the European Union, but here, he thought, was one instance when he wouldn't mind an absolute veto coming from Strasburg.

Toward the end of the month, the British Society of Lepidopterists created a new feeding ground for Araschnia, a stinging nettle plantation on the western side of Pomfret Monachorum. A journalist on the Kingsmarkham Courier wrote a satirical but not very funny piece about this being the first time in the history of horticulture anyone had been known to plant nettles instead of pulling them up. The nettles, naturally, flourished from the start.

The badger movers set about a similar reversal of the usual order of things. Instead of preserving habitats, they were obliged to destroy them. In opening and sealing up a sett that, if it remained in occupation, would have been in the direct path of the new bypass, they had first to cut away a dense mass of brambles. The growth of brambles had been vigorous, indicating it was new this year, springing from heavily pruned stock, and the prickly trailing runners were heavy with green fruit. They lifted the cut mass with gloved hands and found something lying beneath that made them recoil, one of them shout out, and the another retreat under trees to vomit.

What they found was the badly decomposed body of a young girl.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

RUTH RENDELL is the author of Blood Lines (Crown, 1996), Simisola (Crown, 1995), and The Crocodile Bird (Crown, 1994). Her most recent novel is The Keys to the Street (Crown, 1996). She lives in England.

From the Hardcover edition.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
February 17, 1930
Place of Birth:
London, England
Loughton County High School for Girls, Essex

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