Thursday, 19 September 2013

No Man's Nightingale by Ruth Rendell

There is a murder at the Vicarage. The Vicar is strangled to death. Sarah Hussain, the Vicar of Kigsmarkham, had faced lots of resentment and hatred because she is a single mother, a woman clergy and of mixed race. Who killed the Vicar and why? Retired Inspector Wexford acts as an adviser to Mike Burden in unpaid capacity. As he has no official standing no one has to answer his questions but suddenly everyone wants to confide in him. As Wexford looks into Sarah Hussain's murder, he also has to unearth the details about the father of Sarah Hussain's daughter Clarissa. Who is Clarissa's father? Is the answer to that question somehow related to Sarah's death? Is Sarah Hussain a victim of hate crime or is there more to her death?

Near the end of the book, Wexford ponders 'How does one make up names or aliases?' From the books they read, from celebrity names, in olden days one looked up the Directory or we google now. For example, Sarah's daughter gets her name Clarissa because Sarah was reading the book 'Clarissa' when she was pregnant. Maybe the authors use the same process to name their characters. In my opinion, however one gave names, one had to make sure the name is right for the character, for example you can't give a boy a girl's name or call a Hindu character Hussain, which as far as I know is a Muslim name. You can't call a man Kumari (a girl's name) that's what Ruth Rendell did in one of her earlier stories and in this one she calls the Hindu to Christian converted Vicar Sarah Hussain. What's in a name one may ponder? Does it really matter in a crime novel, whether the victim is called Hussain or Kumar? I wouldn't really had bothered if it had been a book by, say, James Rollins or Harlan Coben. But when the author's main storyline is about racism, brings in concepts like 'apologetic racism' and also discusses in detail about how one is named, how do people go about creating aliases one does get irritated and wonder if this is also a form of apologetic racism. How long would it take to check if Hussain is a Hindu name! 

The killer is quite obvious to me and also the other mystery about Clarissa's parentage is also quite clear though Ruth Rendell builds up some mystery over it. Whydunit of it is dismissed early on when the Burden and Wexford decide that why is not important. There are no big surprises and twists like in her other books. What really caught my attention is the small details, like Jeremy Klegg takes sips of alcohol from his hidden flask when he is nervous how this little thing builds up into something bigger. How Maxine talks and talks and thus discloses something to Wexford which she should not have, which results in something else. Jeremey Klegg and Maxine is what I would call typical Rendellian characters and the situation she builds around them creates anticipation. But this is a very small part of the story. I always loved the last minute surprises and twists Ruth Rendell throws into her book, sadly this books fails in that aspect. Having said all this I would also say reading Ruth Rendell is much more satisfying than many other crime novels more because of her characters and also the small interesting details she gives, if you ever wondered 'why' something happened, Ruth Rendell takes us into the situation and shows us how and why it happened.

P. S. Ruth Rendell is my favourite writer and I completely agree with Ian Rankin's quote on the back cover "Probably the greatest living crime writer in the world" 

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