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

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

3.7 17
by Ruth Rendell

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The twenty-first book to feature the classic crime-solving detective, Chief Inspector Wexford.

Searching for truffles in a wood, a man and his dog unearth something slightly less savoury - a human hand.

The corpse, as Chief Inspector Wexford is informed later, has lain buried for ten years or so, wrapped in a purple cotton sheet. The post mortem can


The twenty-first book to feature the classic crime-solving detective, Chief Inspector Wexford.

Searching for truffles in a wood, a man and his dog unearth something slightly less savoury - a human hand.

The corpse, as Chief Inspector Wexford is informed later, has lain buried for ten years or so, wrapped in a purple cotton sheet. The post mortem can not reveal the precise cause of death. The only clue to solving this mysterious murder is a crack in one of the dead man's ribs.

Wexford knows it will be a difficult job to identify the dead body. Although it covers a relatively short period of time, the police computer stores a long list of missing persons. People disappear at an alarming rate - hundreds each day.

And then, only about twenty yards away from the woodland burial site, in the cellar of a disused cottage, another body is found.

The detection skills of Wexford, Burden and the other investigating officers of the Kingsmarkham Police Force are tested to the utmost to discover whether the murders are connected and to track down whoever is responsible.

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 surprises...so shocking they dash all calculations.”
The New York Times Book Review

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Chief Inspector Wexford Series , #21
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Random House
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553 KB

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 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 plastic zipper-lock 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 toward where they had been densest. There she began digging again, fetched out of the rich leaf mold 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 that she had unearthed was of no interest to her. It lay exposed on the chestnut-colored soil, white, fanlike, unmistakably 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 laborer and living in a cottage with no proper 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 dialed Information.

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.

Brief Biography

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

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Not in the Flesh (Chief Inspector Wexford Series #21) 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
GailCooke More than 1 year ago
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
LoveReadingIL More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nepenthe18 More than 1 year ago
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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Alison16 More than 1 year ago
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 More than 1 year ago
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.
katknit More than 1 year ago
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.
4everyone More than 1 year ago
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.
harstan More than 1 year ago
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