Title: An Unkindness of Ravens (Inspector Wexford #13)
Author: Ruth RendellMy GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
This was my first Ruth Rendell book and I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Joy Williams’ husband, Rodney, leaves for an office trip and then goes missing. Inspector Reg Wexford looks into the case at the request of his wife.
Through the course of his investigation, Inspector Wexford discovers that Rodney had a second bank account that received the bulk of his high salary from a job to which he had been promoted years ago. A promotion and bank account that his wife, Joy, knew nothing about. Wexford believes that Rodney has tired of the utterly joyless Joy and run away with another woman, a commonplace affliction in the case of middle-aged males, and that there is not much to the case. But then Rodney’s body is found in his badly battered car.
Meanwhile, Inspector Burden, partner of Inspector Wexford, seems increasingly listless at work and out of harmony with his pregnant wife, Jenny, at home. A feminist, Jenny inexplicably begins to hate her unborn child because it is female. The issue has strained the marriage dangerously.
To complicate matters further, a young woman, or more than one of them, is stabbing men who she suspects of contemplating sexual assault. Inspector Wexford comes to know of a militant feminist organization called Arria, which has adopted the raven as its symbol, and which preaches stridently against male domination.
I enjoyed the literary allusions that were sprinkled throughout this book. There were references to Raymond Chandler, Geoffrey Chaucer’s Olde Wife, the detective fiction of Cyril Hare and to the tropes employed by Victorian novelists. We even come across the Arabian Nights Tale, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, though the reference is all wrong. Plenty of poetry is quoted especially by the two inspectors.
It’s hard to tell the year in which the books are set, except that typewriters, and manual ones at that, are widely in use. In fact, a typewriter is critical to the investigation.
There is a sub-plot on women’s rights, and militant women’s movements that makes for interesting reading and is central to the plot.
The brilliantly named title, An Unkindness of Ravens, is telling in more ways than one. An unkindness is the collective word for ravens. The English language is so entertaining, particularly when it comes to collective nouns.
Inspector Wexford is my new favourite. His ideas about women’s equality, his humour etc set him apart. He thinks of aspects related to the relations between men and women in ways that I have never encountered before. Because he is in his late ‘50s or early ‘60s, he has the self-assurance to think of young people and their sheer audacity, as displayed by his own younger daughter.
My first Inspector Wexford book is number 13 in the series. I have a lot of catching up to do.