From Doon with Death by Ruth Rendell

September 29, 2010

Plot summary (with spoilers): Inspector Mike Burden gets a frantic call from neighbor Ronald Parsons one evening. Mr. Parsons’s wife, Margaret, has not returned home from her daily errands, nor has she left any indication that she intended to be gone for a long time. This is completely unlike her. Burden tries to assure Parsons that Mrs. Parsons will turn up soon enough, but as a police inspector, he has seen this scenario too many times to believe in a happy ending. Sure enough, Mrs. Parsons’s body is discovered the next day in the woods. She had been strangled.

Mr. Parsons is of course the initial suspect, but he seems to be genuinely distraught over his wife’s murder. Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford now joins in on the case and, together with Burden, begins gathering clues and interviewing additional suspects. The clues include a burned matchstick near the scene and a tube of lipstick, which the inspectors soon ascertain not to have belonged to Mrs. Parsons. The suspect list expands to include Douglas Quadrant, a lawyer; Mrs. Missal, his mistress; and Mr. Missal, a potentially jealous husband.

A look at the Parsons home turns up several expensively bound books with romantic inscriptions to “Minna” from “Doon”. The inspectors figure out that Minna must refer to Margaret (though Mr. Parsons swears he never knew anyone to call his wife by that name), but still do not know who Doon is. A former lover, perhaps? This sets them to looking at Mrs. Parsons’s past life, and they learn that she attended an all-girls school nearby. Furthermore, both Helen Missal and Fabia Quadrant (Quadrant’s wife) were classmates of the deceased and were well known to one another. They might not have dished about boys or traded tips about acne home remedies, but they definitely knew each other.

The rest of the book then shows how Wexford and Burden eventually work out who Doon is and why Mrs. Parsons was killed. The investigation actually moves along pretty slowly, though there is a nice twist before the reveal.

Liked:

  • I enjoy reading full series more than one-off books, so I decided to give the Wexford novels a try since they’ve been around so long. This was a very good start!
  • I figured out who the killer was just before the investigation leaned that way, so I give myself a pat on the back for that.

Disliked:

  • I didn’t get much of a feel for Wexford from this book. He seemed rather cold and distant in this one. Maybe that’s his character throughout the series; I really have no idea. But just judging by this one book, I wouldn’t necessarily come back to the series for the character alone.
  • I wish Rendell had taken a moment to say where the Doon nickname came from. I thought it would mean something significant, but I guess not.

Rating:

Overall, I was pleased with this first novel in the Inspector Wexford series by Ruth Rendell. It didn’t knock my socks off or anything, but I never considered chucking it aside, either. I give From Doon with Death 3 stars out of 5.

One Response to “From Doon with Death by Ruth Rendell”

  1. The character of Douglas Quadrant is one of the most compelling of the author’s many fictions. I would like to have seen him reappear in other Wexford stories, but true to form, the author remains silent while constantly injecting her pet social notions and Wexford’s obnoxious family into the novels. Certain scenes in “Doon” containing Quadrant imprint his image on the reader’s mind as few others in contemporary fiction. Not only doesn’t the author appreciate the dynamics of her own characters, she h as no asthetic intelligence. In this day and age, however, she and P>D> James are the greatest writers in English.

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