A paedophile convicted of raping and murdering a small boy is released from jail and moves back to his old home on an otherwise quiet estate prompting protests. A 16 year old girl inexplicably goes missing from her home after an evening out with her friends, but returns 3 days later with a bizarre tale that she was kept hostage by a middle aged woman and a younger man and forced to do housework. As Lizzie is a bit intellectually challenged and obviously afraid of something, no one takes her tale very seriously until another girl of roughly the same age goes missing. Even more sinister is the disappearance of a 3 year old girl from a wealthy home in the same town. Suddenly the reappearance of the paedophile takes on a whole new meaning as far as the town is concerned. Inspector Wexford sets out to find the girl and save a paedophile from a lynch mob.
Harm Done is a very diffuse novel which tackles several difficult themes: paedophilia, kidnap, vigilantism and domestic violence. The plot is complex but the story is well written and it isn’t difficult to keep the different lines of inquiry separate when necessary. Personally I thought this one took on a bit much myself although I understand why she wrote it as she did. It does have it’s advantages, the primary one being of confusing the focus of the real crime so the solution isn’t obvious from the beginning, which is what would have happened in real life. It also shows how much one piece of news or one person can effect many different people at once. Still, I personally would have preferred her to concentrate on fewer issues at once. Doing so might have made the novel a bit more powerful, especially as it would have obviated the need for the epilogue. Written as is, however, it’s a good mystery and a good, quick read. It’s not one of Rendell’s best, but neither is it one of her worst.
3.5 out of 5