"From Doon With Death" is Ruth Rendell's first novel, and also marks the literary debuts of protagonists Chief Inspector Reg Wexford, and his partner in crime solving, Inspector Mike Burden. At this somewhat late date in life, I thought it about time I explore Ms. Rendell's mysteries, and her psychological thrillers, which receive such rave reviews. "From Doon With Death" was my recent introduction to the author's work. I believe in starting at the beginning. Now I understand what all the fanfare is about. This is an excellent mystery - and it is only her first effort. I know she has matured greatly as a writer in the forty plus years since she published this book in 1964. I look forward to following her development as a writer as I continue to read her books, authored under the name of Barbara Vine, as well as Ruth Rendell.
Margaret Parsons and her husband of six years, Ronald, have recently moved to Kingsmarkham in Sussex. They are a happily married, rather introverted couple, and keep to themselves most of the time. Although Margaret is a lay preacher at the local Methodist Church, and has some acquaintances there, the two have not made any friends yet. They are definitely not wealthy and live a very frugal existence. Ronald works for the Southern Water Board at Stowerton and Margaret is a homemaker, a good one too. Their large, ugly house, is not well constructed, nor does it have a refrigerator, washing machine or other modern conveniences. It does contain, however, a small but very expensive collection of Victorian literature and poetry, bound in suede, scented leather and watered silk. All are inscribed, on the fly leaves, from Doon to Minna, and the messages are personal, romantic, and intense, to say the least.
At the book's beginning, a frantic Ronald Parsons telephones Inspector Mike Burden, a neighbor, to tell him that his wife hasn't come home that evening. The body of the thirty-two year-old woman, is found the next day, strangled in a near-by wood. She had left home with only her keys and purse, not even her coat. When the valuable book collection is discovered in a trunk in the attic, the investigation take on a new nature. Who are Minna and Doon? And who was Margaret Parsons?
Although the seemingly prim and proper Mrs. Parsons is dead when the story begins, the author paints a vivid portrait of the victim in retrospect, through the testimonies of those questioned in connection to the crime. Chief Inspector Wexford, with his countrified ways and off-beat humor, is a meticulous detective, if somewhat eccentric. Inspector Burden, also very competent, makes a wonderful straightman and side-kick. The narrative is taut, the characters diverse and original, and the mystery suspenseful. I couldn't figure out who did it. Ms. Rendell also writes a scathing commentary about the idle rich. This is a book that stands the test of time and continues to rivet its readers. I highly recommend it.