Monday, October 8, 2018

The Best Man to Die

I'd been waiting for one of Ruth Rendell's Inspector Wexford mysteries to grab me, and The Best Man to Die succeeded.  A bit less obviously psychological (popular understanding of motivations has evolved since the year I was born), it also introduces Wexford's drama-student daughter Sheila.

Sheila, and the dustmop of a dog she's watching for a friend, add a bit of levity to a pair of apparently unconnected mysteries.  Charlie Hatton was supposed to be best man at his friend Jack Pertwee's wedding.  Instead, someone killed him after he left the stag night at the local pub.  Wexford came across his body (and Maurice Cullum, one of the revelers and suspects) while walking Sheila's temporary dog.  While he spends his Saturday interviewing the wedding party, Inspector Burden goes to the hospital to interview the lone survivor of a car crash.  Mrs. Fanshaw, however, insists that her daughter wasn't in the car when her husband ran off the road.  If so, who was the young woman found burnt almost beyond recognition in the wreckage? As Wexford investigates the Hatton murder, he begins to suspect that the dead man's blackmail scheme connects to the fatal crash, but how?  There's an easy to miss, but obvious once it's mentioned twist which neatly (but not too neatly) solves the case, and a bit of comic tension (it's hard to explain without spoiling) which adds to the final pages.  Now I understand why the Wexford novels have remained so popular.

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