Baroness P D James and Baroness Ruth Rendell were contemporary writers of murder mysteries and went on to create successful series of novels for the ‘Gentlemen-Detective’ prototype a.ka. Commander Adam Dalgliesh and Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford respectively.
While I have been a great fan of Dalgliesh, I am yet to explore the world of Wexford in detail. ‘Road Rage’ is the first murder mystery that I read based on his exploits and all along I had a mental game running on him v/s Dalgliesh. Overall I am excited enough to continue to further delve into the adventures of the mild-mannered and rather self-effacing Chief Inspector.
Well the novel is more of a drama than a murder mystery – it does not quite race like a thriller. Characterization is done well for Inspector Wexford but most of the rest of the characters are quite incidental with the notable exception of his sidekick, Inspector Burden. Rather disappointing is the shadowy nature of the protagonist – while the end comes as a surprise it does not quite hold you in thrall since there are not many suspects to begin with and final unravelling is incidental and a means to bring the story to an end.
Certain red herrings are tagged in well and rather meticulously the author traces the detectives running these leads to the ground. Even the psychological profile of the villains and their acts of villainy are quite at odds – and one is not convinced that such acts are easily in the realm of being realistic.
Rendell does a great job in plotting the angst and displacement that is caused when a ‘road-bypass’ project threatens the lives and livelihood of its residents. She displays a great hold on the subject as we are shown multitudinous perspective on the plan. She catalogues the protest moment well and is ruthless in exposing the ‘protest game’ being just an option for certain protesters who just wander around the country looking for similar causes. In some ways it is quite scary to note that people can convert even a protest movement into a vocation that they pursue in a mindless manner without bothering about the ramifications of their protests. The misuse obviously in turn diminishes the utility of the weapon and the larger society to sees it as a tawdry piece of action.
The climax is wrapped up in a rush, yet though the loose ends are neatly managed. The final dénouement does not quite carry the required gravitas and appropriate tonality. One is a bit surprised to note the lack of governmental intervention and possible negotiation with the mischief-makers. The twist of having a mole in their midst would have been effective had some piqué been built around it earlier. As it is the revelation causes more bewilderment than spice things up for the reader. So possibly this might not be the best and most popular work of Chief Inspector Wexford.
I am still hopeful enough to look forward to read more of work and come to a better balanced conclusion about her most celebrated creation, Wexford.