Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Not in the Flesh by Ruth Rendell

Once again, Inspector Wexford finds himself confronted with a body. This time it’s several years old and is found in a ditch by a truffle hunter. The gruesome find turns into a hunt for someone who must have disappeared years ago. In his search to discover the identities of both the victim and the perpetrator, Wexford runs into a second body and more problems. As if he didn’t have enough problems to deal with, he becomes involved with the Somali community and the fight against Female Genital Mutilation as he realizes that there are things out there which are often more disturbing even than murder.

OK, this one isn’t going to win any prizes and it isn’t Rendell at her best. The murder mystery isn’t particularly memorable in any way other than being a very intricate puzzle that Wexford must piece together; luck being served up in healthy portions to help him complete this task. What one does remember is the FGM. Although I knew it existed, it’s not a subject I’ve personally been confronted with and some of the details Rendell gives in the novel are quite disturbing. Especially distressing is that it becomes obvious that it is, like so many other crimes, almost impossible to prevent and difficult to prosecute for. Few people follow laws they know they won’t be punished for, but prosecution and punishment can only occur if the crime can be established after the fact. That means waiting until the crime has been committed, putting the investigators in charge in the difficult position of allowing a crime to go ahead and one child to suffer so that others can be saved in the long run. What an awful decision to have to make.

Often times, using entertainment media to underline the importance of political or social issues winds up putting people off. Who wants to be preached to while they’re relaxing on their couch at the end of a day’s work? Most of us get enough of reality during the day, so please don’t shove it in our face at night. I have to applaud Rendell for addressing issues like FGM, racism and familial violence without making the reader feel as if it’s social lesson time. She weaves it into her story, making it clear what she thinks without beating the audience over the head with it.

She’s also been much criticised for her lack of modern policing and that Wexford doesn’t seem to have grown with the times. Personally, I think we’re lost in modernism today. After all, Just because the police Can Do all of the tests they show on any of the 100+ CSIs, doesn’t mean they have the budget or the time to do them. It also doesn’t mean that the men and women who are leading investigations get to turn their brains off and rely solely on the latest technology. They still have to be astute and observant. I’m also sure that some of them still prefer to rely on old fashioned methods, at least for the bulk of the investigation. Hard work is still the crux of most things, modern or not. So I’m prepared to forgive the old-fashioned Wexford with his lack of forensics and up-to-date technology. Besides, I’m still a fan of the good old English mystery and that’s what I expect from Rendell. Frankly, I’d be disappointed if she did change it all to fit the critics taste.

This isn’t Rendell’s finest, but if you’re a fan, it’s still worth a cosy Sunday afternoon.

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