Wednesday, June 13, 2007

From Doon With Death (thoughts)

Ruth Rendell's From Doon w/ Death was one of my Summer Mystery Challenge picks. In How Novels Work, Mullan used another of Rendell's books (Adam and Eve and Pinch Me) to explore some of his points. She seemed like such a good writer, that when I decided to do the challenge, I knew I wanted to read some of her. I picked From Doon w/ Death because it was the first in the Inspector Wexford series.

So, during my huge B&N splurge last week, I picked it up. I must admit that the cover was disappointing. It's a mass market paperback (although a trade one is forthcoming), and it has this ugly magenta lipstick on the cover, Then, the author's name is written in a lurid lime green. To top it off, beneath the title it says "She was a prim and proper wife-until her death revealed a dark secret..." Could it get any trashier looking? In fact, I considered changing my selection.

Fortunately, I decided not to judge it by its cover. ;) I'm sorry, I couldn't resist. So, without giving away too much of the plot, a housewife disappears and is found dead in the woods. Inspector Wexford must figure out why a woman who barely ever went out ended up murdered. To do so, he must delve into her past and find out old secrets in the small town.

Rendell is most powerful when she's describing emotions. The story deals a lot w/ upper and lower-middle class interactions. Rendell captures perfectly the ability of the upper class to snub people, and the ability of non-upper class people to become super-sensitive. She's good at evoking powerful emotions with images. My favourite examples of this: the first one is when the inspector visits the husband of the victim at home (when she's still missing)
"The tea-cups they had used the night before had just been washed and were draining on a home-made rack of wooden dowel rods. Burden marvelled at the ingrained habit of respectability that made this man, at a crisis in his life, spruce himself and put his house in order." (15)
The second describes the husband on his way to the funeral
"Parsons was dressed in a dark suit. His black tie, not new and worn perhaps on previous mourning occasions, showed the shiny marks of a too-hot, inexpertly handled iron." (174)
I just love how spot-on that is: you can picture the poor husband, ironing his suit for his wife's funeral, staring blankly into space, letting the iron sit too long on the tie. It's exquisite.

Of course, in a mystery, plotting is everything. Rendell does a pretty good job; I guessed the twist and the killer about half way through, which is pretty standard for me on mystery novels. It's a good twist, though, and there are quite a few red herrings. Plus, it's always satisfying to watch the story spin out once you know you're right. ;)

I suppose Rendell's weakness is Inspector Wexford. The label on the book, "an Inspector Wexford mystery," implies that Wexford is the central character. However, he's barely in the novel; he's the boss of Inspector Burden (gotta love that surname). And, when he is in the novel, he's lugubrious. He kind of reminds me of Adam, the original D.A. on Law and Order. Intelligent, but tired of life, and seemingly never shocked by how low people steep. However, he's not in the book enough for me to really care about him. The mystery series I truly love-Christie's Miss Marple, Sayers' Lord Whimsy, King's Mary Russell-I consider the detective a personal friend. I read the books almost as a substitute for a tete-a-tete with them. After finishing From Doon w/ Death, I'm not interested in meeting Inspector Wexford for tea; if anything, I feel he'd have a stiff Scotch.

All in all, I might read more of her books later, but I don't feel a burning desire to go out and buy the rest of the series. Her descriptions are second-to-none; if only her ability to fashion sympathetic, intelligent detectives equalled it.

1 comment:

iliana said...

Sounds like the cover was from the 80s :)

I have read several Rendell books which I've liked quite a bit but haven't read any of her Inspector Wexford series. I'll have to give those a try sometime.