After having Ruth Rendell recommended to me, I finally found a copy of one of her Inspector Wexford whodunits last week, An Unkindness of Ravens, published in 1985, and have finished it off. Maybe I was expecting too much, another Sherlock Holmes with all the dashing about by horse-drawn taxis, or Fu Manchu with the bizarre and deadly Asian flora and fauna, or even something camp like Mickey Spillane with all the corny cliches–for some reason, just the macho-pretentious title “My gun is quick” sends me into a fit of hysterical giggles. But Rendell was a bit of a disappointment.
Technically, she’s okay, on par with Ellery Queen, but probably not with Agatha Christie. Still, the book was readable, and maybe someone who was more into the genre would enjoy it more than I did. Probably the most enjoyably quirky thing about it was the continuous references to paint colors manufactured by the company that employed the first murder victim:
The main bedroom was like his own in size and proportions. The walls were even painted in the same color as his own, Sevenstar emulsion Orange Blossom. There the resemblance ended.
But even though I have been in England, the scenes just didn’t come alive for me. I couldn’t seem to picture the forests, the suburban houses, the streets, the characters… any of it. Worse, Rendell is known for using psychological themes, and those were a disappointment as well. They didn’t seem to be incorporated into the narrative, just tacked on to the end. As someone who has both worked in psych facilities and social work venues, and racked up an embarrassing number of credit hours in the subject, it didn’t ring true at all. Rendell seems to take Freud as gospel, which even in 1985 wasn’t that common, and uses the case of Anna O to discredit those who report sexual predators, a red light to anyone who has been a mandated reporter, even before the official coverup of priestly misdeeds became known.
The other psychological twist involves folie a deux, (at the very end, with no foreshadowing) which Rendell defines as “a kind of madness that overtakes two people only when they are together…you’ll always find one party who is easily led and one who is dominant.” Interesting, but probably not worth reading the whole book to find out about it. I should probably just stick with Graham Greene.