The Babes in the Wood (Ruth Rendell)

By Ruth Rendell

First published: UK, Hutchinson, 2002; US, Crown, 2002

4 stars

Rendell - Babes in the Wood.jpgPossibly the best Wexford for some time.  Here are all the hallmarks of Rendell’s writing at its best: a palpable yet indefinable atmosphere of wrongness, reflected in the vanished children and their sinister minder, the religious cult and the dysfunctional families, all unhappy in their own peculiar way (she should adopt the line as her motto); a number of highly unpleasant yet sharply drawn and interesting characters, of whom it must be admitted that the neurotic Mrs. Dade gets on one’s nerves, and Sophie is too much of a caricature; an unusual setting that feels increasingly real, for the flooded Kingsmarkham is, like Beulah Height, part of our world; and a soundly constructed and engrossing plot: unlike the all-too-often flabby James, Rendell justifies her length.  The solution recalls Carr at his best in its psychologically surprising yet convincing revelation; and the murderer, although a minor character, is satisfactory enough.