Monday, October 8, 2012

A Sleeping Life: Review

A Sleeping Life is Ruth Rendell's tenth mystery featuring Chief Inspector Wexford and Inspector Burden. The story begins with what seems to be a very simple murder.  A lonely, middle-aged woman stabbed to death on a path running between the bus stop and her father's home. Her body is discovered by a small boy on his way home with his dad. But when Wexford and Burden arrive, they find that things are more mysterious than they seem.  The woman has no identification on her--the only items in her purse are a set of keys and a wallet with money.  Once she has been identified as Rhoda Comfrey things remain a mystery.  No one in the village where she grew up knows where she's been living.  And every lead the police manage to find takes them nowhere. Finally, the wallet provides a connection to Grenville West, a writer whose works are based upon Elizabethan-era plays.  But even that seems to be a dead end--West is abroad in France on a holiday and his secretary has a postcard to prove it.  There are many questions and few answers....and Wexford learns that a sleeping life can hide many secrets.

Rendell is a masterful storyteller--so much so that it did not matter that I knew long before Wexford where to find Grenville West and what the connection between him and the dead woman was.  She weaves her tale with such skill that I was swept along, following Wexford and Burden down every blind alley until they knew what I knew.  Her characters are lively, interesting, and believable and the murder rings true for its time.  Readers should remember that they are visiting the world of the late 70s...times have changed a bit since then.  Three and half stars.


Maybe being married is talking to oneself with one's other self listening. [Inspector Wexford; p. 164]

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