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'I believe fiction should be pure,' she says, 'but we live in a political age and I am a political person and so it can't help but get into the books in some form. I consciously put politics into the Inspector Wexford novels, but with my other books I don't unless I can't help it. The first one that has politics in it is The Veiled One, in which Wexford's daughter, Sylvia, cuts through wire on a nuclear missile base. It was written in the 1980s when CND was very active. I was involved in CND and it was a very serious time. I made Sylvia active in the movement and had Wexford showing sympathy but not support.' Wexford is a very popular character with liberal principles, who has developed through the series of novels.

'Men want to be like him,' says Rendell, 'and women fall in love with him. They write and ask me to kill off his wife! I deliberately gave him a stable background so that I could concentrate on the plot. He is a wise, thinking man and so if I make him support something it can have an effect. The first Wexford was influenced by Hillary Waugh, who wrote about a small American town, but I soon abandoned that style and Wexford's character changed. He was a tough cop, but has become more tolerant, liberal and kindly. I did decide not to write any more Wexfords because I had no more ideas, but then I thought of bringing in a strong political dimension and wrote Simisola, which deals with slavery, racism and unemployment. Wexford hadn't thought about racism before so I decided to make it strongly political. I thought I would get lots of angry, upset letters and that it wouldn't be popular, but I haven't had one letter of disapprobation. Every letter has been from people who like it and it's sold better than any of my other books, in spite of the political views.'
    -INTERVIEW: Confessions of a Crime Writer (Anthea Davey, Red Pepper)

The Wife and I are big fans of BBC mysteries and have been catching up on older ones via Netflix and Peerflix, so we gave the. Ruth Rendell Inspector Wexford Mysteries a try. Unfortunately, the only two currently available on DVD are Simisola and Road Rage which Ms Rendell was at the peak of her above-mentioned PC phase and they're pretty awful. In Simisola, Wexford improbably allows himself to be mau-maued by a missing black girl's family and in Road Rage he's respectful of a gang of ecoterrorists, until they take his wife anyway.... The politics is so insipid The Wife couldn't take it anymore and stopped watching, but I like George Baker, as Wexford, and Christopher Ravenscroft, as Mike Burden, enough that I sat through to the end. I've purposely avoided that stretch of novels in the series and find that, while Ms Rendell's politics are indeed at war with the character she's created, they can be read for enjoyment.

An Unkindness of Ravens is a nice entry because, while it does feature a gang of radical feminists, Wexford views them with at least a somewhat jaundiced eye. Shake Hands Forever is a treat because the physically intimidating and seemingly always in control Wexford becomes obsessed with solving a case where he's up against a deadline and it really gets to him. And, Babes in the Wood,, one of the latest entries, would appear to represent a somewhat conscious return to a more straightforward and less polemical police procedural. In the last, a subordinate describes the Wexford conundrum:
How was it find such irreconcilables bunched together in one man's character? How could one man be liberal, compassionate, sensitive, well-read and at the same time ribald, derisive, sardonic, and flippant about serious things?
I'm of the opinion that like many an author before her--from Cervantes to Graham Greene--Ms Rendell has created a great conservative character who stubbornly refuses to bend to the liberal template she keeps trying to force him into. His socialist sensibilities therefore come across as either wholly phony or as an attempt to be something he obviously isn't. The result is a frequent dissonance in a series that could have been great but is merely intermittently good.


Grade: (C)


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