After dragging myself through Asta’s Book (written under the name of Barbara Vine), I read this one very quickly and without the nagging feelings that slowed me down with the other one, a more traditional police procedural featuring Inspector Wexford. I mostly read it aloud to Baby Smithereens by instalments of 10 pages every night (using a small flashlight), but after a while the plot became too engrossing so I read by myself during my commute too. I guess Baby Smithereens didn’t really mind the missing parts. As most Wexford mysteries the violence is not too graphic and I skipped the post-mortem part when reading aloud, just in case it would traumatize his subconscious ;).
It starts off like a banal disappearance of a neighbour running off with a mistress, but it soon involves a fanatical group of feminists who don’t recoil at using violence against men (out of principled retaliation for past oppression). It was interesting and well-crafted, but the resolution was not that surprising, which is unusual for a Rendell’s mystery.
There was also an interesting subplot in the family of Wexford’s conservative deputy Burden: his wife gets pregnant and at the ultrasound check-up they learn that they are expecting a baby girl—to which she reacts with horror and declares it impossible for her to bear a daughter into the world. Burden’s wife herself pretended not to care before the test but it triggers emotions well beyond her control that threaten her mental health. And the resolution on that one is really unexpected!
I guess Rendell’s wants to drive home the point that gender issues are never completely in the realm of reason, and that everyone may be prejudiced even unconsciously. In a larger perspective, this Rendell mystery is about what we know of people who are close to us: how a father, a neighbour, a daughter, a wife, can revel completely different from what we expect. If not earth-shattering, this mystery was a pleasant enough read about English suburbs.