By Ruth Rendell
First published: UK, Hutchinson, 1985; US, Pantheon Books, 1985
Bigamist Rodney Williams is stabbed to death presumably by one of his wives, who may have some connection with the militant feminist organisation ARRIA.
“Revolutionaries are always extreme,” a character suggests. “If they’re not, if they compromise with liberalism, all their principles fizzle out and you’re back with the status quo.” Her Chief Inspector Wexford doesn’t agree, though.
Rendell’s police procedural examines political extremism and the psychology of adolescent girls, with themes of feminism, the generation, gender, and class gaps, and paedophilia.
The surprising ending shows Rendell’s interest in psychology, with terms such as solipsism, folie à deux and Freudian seduction theory tossed around with gay abandon, but there is not too much psychology, and Burden’s familial problems do not intrude.
Times Literary Supplement (13th September 1985):
While on the track of a vanished paint salesman, Detective Chief Inspector Wexford collides with a group of militant feminists calling themselves ARRIA—Action for the Radical Reform of Intersexual Attitudes. Their tee-shirts are emblazoned with ravens: the point of the title being that an unkindness is an obsolete term for a flock of ravens. But, apart from this, it’s good to have Wexford back in something approaching mid-season form. Vastly differing milieux are touched in with immaculate precision, a large cast and complex plot are handled with great professionalism, and a touch of the macabre adds a frisson to normal, quotidian life.