Anita Margolis, young, beautiful, carefree, has vanished into thin air. She left her home to attend a party one wet evening, but has not been seen since. She is reported missing soon after by her brother, whom she shared a flat with, the acclaimed but eccentric artist Rupert Margolis. Inspector Burden quickly forms an impression of a wanton young girl simply gone off somewhere with a boyfriend having neglected to let anyone know. After all, she was that sort of woman, in Burden's opinion. However, Wexford has his doubts, and those doubts will soon be confirmed, and they will soon find themselves enmeshed in a case that will throw every assumption they make into doubt.
This is an early Wexford book, and it is brilliant. A simple notion, but true. One of the best of the entire series, actually, the fact of its quality equally matches that of the novels she is still producing and marks her out clearly as possibly the most reliable and captivating novelist of her generation, such is her constant unfailing ability. She writes absolutely brilliantly, with an emotional detachedness that makes it so much more powerful when she decides that now is the time to probe in the darkness of a particular characters mind and motivations. And those characters are unendingly fascinating, completely human yet with a shadowy darkness to them, and flawlessly depicted.
But it is not just her characters that mark her books out as special. Setting and story meld in equally with character in the most successful books to create a compelling whole, and Rendell accomplishes this with ease. The fictional Kingsmarkham is almost as tangible and atmospheric as the London she uses as the setting for some of her other non-Wexford novels. The reader feels they could easily be supplanted into the story, onto the streets of this fictional town, and yet already know its environs intimately.
And then, of course, the story too is near-perfect. It is dark, it is clever, it is affecting, it is psychologically acute, it is realistic (despite the false idea that these kind of traditional procedural novels tend not to be), it is engrossing, as well as being a plethora of other laudable adjectives as well. It shifts and moves and surprises and has excellent pace, carrying the reader through on a breathless ride - secured in by the mesmeric hand-at-your-throat grip of the prose - until a tension-filled conclusion, which leaves more than one character irredeemably altered for life.
Wolf to the Slaughter is simply yet another excellent novel from the woman who is, in my mind, the best writer in the world today. And that is all there is to it.