three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
44-Jan-Feb-2010
By: 
Ruth Rendell
user_rating: 
0

An Inspector Wexford Novel

A-The Monster in the BoxRumor has it that Monster in the Box--the 22nd novel in the beloved series that began with From Doon With Death in 1964--just might be Ruth Rendell's final entry in the series.

The Story: Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford of Kingsmarkham, a small Sussex town south of London, is now a grandfather with years of experience under his belt. But the reappearance of creepy animal lover Eric Targo gives him ample opportunity to relive his days as a rookie cop, when his first murder case--that of a strangled woman--went unsolved. Years later, other murders have plagued the town, and Wexford, who always suspected Targo's killer instincts, spies the creepy man back in town. Meanwhile, a Muslim schoolgirl, who may have been forced into an arranged marriage, disappears. As Wexford goes after Targo, he remembers his early career, the courtship of his wife, and his life's work.
Scribner. 287 pages. $26. ISBN: 9781439150337

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"We close the book on Inspector Wexford with the knowledge that he has had an illustrious career. And we accept this conclusion because at any time we can return to Kingsmarkham to explore the darker side of humanity with him as our reassuring and humane guide." Michael Sims

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Although the plot mechanics linking these two story lines are a bit creaky, it's a pleasure to have flashbacks to a boyish Wexford in hot pursuit of girls of a certain alluring type. It's also a revelation to see how meticulously Rendell reconstructs that long-ago period and place from mere glimpses of a street without cars or an open field where a boy could see the stars." Marilyn Stasio

Houston Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"Focused on the most recent murder likely to be the work of Targo, Wexford largely ignores this side investigation [into a schoolgirl's disappearance] (and with good reason--it sorely lacks the writer's usual psychological finesse). Targo, however, proves intriguing enough, particularly as Wexford gradually unearths the motivations for those appalling murders that, for so many years, made no sense." P. G. Koch

Spectator (UK) 3 of 5 Stars
"Ruth Rendell seems uneasy about [Kingsmarkham's Muslim population], not out of any prejudice--she is a Labour peeress, after all--but because she cannot quite make up her mind how they should be viewed by her characters, and ends up uneasily with everyone apologising for everyone else. ... Most readers will fall into the period without being reminded that someone had to run for a phone box because there were no mobiles then." Susan Hill

Los Angeles Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Like several of the most recent Wexford novels, The Monster in the Box feels in places rather slight, even perfunctory--particularly when compared with [Rendell's] gripping psychological thrillers. ... Still, longtime Rendell fans probably will enjoy having a pivotal period in the redoubtable chief inspector's youth back-filled in this fashion, and Wexford remains one of those literary creations with whom spending time is pleasant, even when it's not particularly stimulating." Tim Rutten

Critical Summary

Although acknowledging Wexford's fascinating foray back in time, critics expressed mixed opinions about Rendell's latest--perhaps last--Inspector Wexford mystery. The most enthusiastic reviews, adopting a nostalgic tone, reminisced about Wexford's years as a young policeman, his personal growth, and the earlier period's cultural milieu. But more critics felt mixed about Rendell's retelling of Wexford's life 30 years before; others criticized the forced, distracting subplot featuring the Muslim girl and Rendell's strained political correctness. The Monster in the Box seems minor compared to previous efforts, and, though interesting, novices may wish to start with one of the earlier books in the series.