In Rendell's fine follow-up to A Sight for Sore Eyes (1999), a non-Wexford novel in which a working-class aesthete's quest for beauty earned him an ugly, unexpected end, horror strikes the home improvement plans of Martin and Anne Rokeby. The couple are seriously disconcerted to discover multiple bodies in varying states of decay in a long-forgotten vault beneath their London garden. In the art world, the Rokebys' address is famous as the setting of a '70s-era masterpiece, Marc and Harriet in Orcadia Place, a painting depicting a rock star and his girlfriend. Though Inspector Wexford has retired, the police soon summon him to help solve this most gothic case. Has more than one killer used the vault as a body dump? Rendell's recent style can feel a bit anemic when contrasted with that of A Sight for Sore Eyes, and she populates this sequel with people who resemble sketches rather than vivid, complex characters. Still, this easily outshines most of the competition on either side of the Atlantic. (Sept.)
This sequel to Rendell's 1999 A Sight for Sore Eyes—and the 23rd installment of her Inspector Wexford series—begins with the discovery of four bodies under the patio of a lovely cottage in the exclusive London suburb of St. John's Wood. Three of the victims died 12 years ago, but the fourth body, that of a provocatively dressed young woman, has been in the vault for only two years. Stymied in their attempts to identify the victims and discover how they came to their violent ends, the London police call in the retired but restless Wexford to serve as a consultant. VERDICT Rendell crams so many characters and plotlines into her story that some readers may have difficulty keeping it all straight and remaining engaged. This experienced author, however, does an admirable job of tying everything together in the end. Recommended for procedural fans and for Rendell's many faithful readers.—Jane la Plante, Minot State Univ. Lib., ND
Ex–Chief Inspector Wexford returns from retirement to solve a most unlikely case: the mystery of who killed the three people whose corpses were last seen at the bottom of a coal hole inA Sight for Sore Eyes(1999).
In the decade since Franklin Merton left St. John's Wood in 1998, Orcadia Cottage has changed hands twice by the time Martin Rokeby, who wants to make room for an amphora his wife Anne found in Florence, pulls up a manhole cover in his backyard and shines a light down a dark shaft to reveal not only the three victims from Rendell's earlier tale but a fourth, much more recently dead than the others but equally beyond identification. Det. Supt. Thomas Ede, of Cricklewood, is getting nowhere with the case, so he invites Reg Wexford, who's retired to Hampstead Heath, to join him as an unpaid consultant. "I'm an amateur detective now," thinks Wexford, though one accorded much less respect than Poirot or Lord Peter. Accompanying Ede and his sergeant, Lucy Blanch, on interviews, he ventures several guesses as to the identities of the dead—Merton's vanished second wife, Harriet? The young man seen driving an Edsel and heard calling himself Keith Hill? His uncle, from whom he may have taken his name and much more? Orcadia neighbor Mildred Jones's cleaner Vladlena, who memorably burned the shirt of her then-husband Colin?—and then watches as he's proved right or wrong. Nor does he simply watch, for trauma and tragedy are about to visit Wexford's own family in equally unnerving ways.
Though this sequel doesn't pack the punch of the earlier novel, which never seemed in need of a sequel, it's an undoubted tour de force likely to offer enjoyment both to readers with long memories and to those approaching it as a stand-alone.