on November 9, 2009
Losing none of his urge to get to get to the bottom of a challenging case, Rendell's intrepid protagonist Inspector Wexford finds himself uncovering the dark motivations of Eric Targo, a monster who Wexford suspects is a serial murderer. The first time Wexford had seen Targo was when he was very young and very fit and a young police officer investigating a brutal murder of Elsie Carroll had been found dead in her bedroom one evening while her husband was out at his whist club. Targo had been exercising his golden spaniel in the street shortly after the murder, his stare was absurd, sinister, it went on so long still gazing at Wexford under the street lamp. Then Wexford nodded faintly saying to himself that man he did it, while Targo hides his birthmark, a purple-brown naevus, shaped like a map of an unknown continent, "whoever he is, he killed Elsie Carroll." And then there's the faint nod as if to say: " We know each other now. We are bound together now"
But now with the birthmark gone, Targo has grown old but has a young man's figure, squat stocky muscular with his cocky walk and his confident stance. But Wexford is still plagued by memories from a distant past as he spies Targo visiting an the Rahman family in a suburb of Kingsmarkham, driving up and parking in a white van. Wexford just can't get Targo out of his head, the hunches, speculations, suspicions built up over the years. Now a lifetime later Wexford is ready to tell Mike Burdon who reminds him Targo has absolutely no motive. Furthermore, there's no circumstantial evidence and he's got some sort of alibi that he was at home with his family, looking after his son. Why would he kill Elsie Carroll?
Meanwhile, Burden's wife Jenny and Wexford's colleague Hannah Goldsmith set themselves on a path of benevolent martyrdom, convinced that the Rahman family's youngest the sixteen year old Tamina is being pushed into an arranged forced marriage. Currently Tamina's whereabouts is unknown, having left school of her own free will like the law says she could. Wexford is convinced that Jenny and Hannah have manufactured a serious problem out of nothing. But Hannah will not be un-persuaded, with her propensity to bend over backwards to avoid uttering the slightest word that might be construed as criticism of some nasty custom. Her vehement determination is prove that a forced marriage was intended without any evidence of it.
Rendell fleshes out Wexford's character like never before as she recalls his first loves, his engagement to a girl called Alison and then his obsession with a girl in a red dress, just enough to think that one day he would like to marry a girl like her, and his experiences in Cornwall with a young girl by the name of Medora Holland, and her boyfriend. Of course, his marriage to Dora remains steadfast, her loyalty and love the rock in his life. When another murder hits close to home, shaking up Wexford and Dora's world, Wexford turns to his memories of the seventeen-year-old Billy Kenyon a young autistic man who loved to work at Kingsmarkham's Botanical Gardens and who was murdered back in 1976, perhaps by Targo.
Rendell intuits her novel with a benevolent racism, a British people who think they are "not without prejudice," a family who had a solidarity Wexford had seldom seen before the immigrants came, along with the wild imaginings, fixation, and a kind of madness of the man with the cold blue eyes who had such self-confidence that he would see no need to bring the instrument of death with him. Mixing in various ex-wives, and other opportunists, Rendell's novel bleeds the past in with the present, the suspicious and the unpredictable, not the least of whom is the enigmatic drifter Eric Targo. Emphasizing the gossipy effects of small town Kingsmarkham, Rendell's Wexford faces a convoluted mystery and a real challenge that slowly unravels as the novel progresses. While it's not surprising that Targo's machinations are somehow connected to the Rahman family, the fear of what he might do next plays a large role in this case, almost becoming an invisible container created by Wexford's mind, the apprehensiveness or anxiety always locked inside, a true monster in the box. Mike Leonard November 09.