The Monster in the Box by Ruth Rendell (2009)
A funny thing happened on the way to Ruth Rendell Day on Friday's Forgotten Books: Life got in the way and I was not able to finish the book -- something I should accomplish this evening. So here's a partial review with my apologies.
First a confession. I like Ruth Rendell's Inspector Wexford mysteries; I like Ruth Rendell's short stories; and I have never been able to finish any of her stand-alone psychological novels. Don't know why. She's a great writer. Her stand-alones have won all sorts of awards. But every time I pick one up, I can't get through the first few chapters. It's me, I know, not Rendell. (I also have had the same problem with some of P. D. James' books.)
Luckily, The Monster in the Box is an Inspector Wexford mystery, one harking back to his first days as a policeman. Elsie Carroll, a young housewife, is found strangled in her home. Back then, murdrrs were rare in Kingsmarkham and this was the first murder in two years. Wexford, the low man on the toem pole was called to the scene, along with a police Sergeant, two DIs, and a Detective Inspector. Elsie's husband, supposedly visiting his sick mother, later confessed to being with another woman. The woman later denied her involvement with the husband and the husband became the prime suspect. While leaing thee scene of the crime, Wexford notices a man the house who stood staring at him. The man then gave a slight nod, then turned away. It was then that w/exford instinctiely knew that the man -- Eric Targo -- was the murderer. Soon, Elsie's husband was arrested, went to trial, was conicted, and on appeal was freed due to a technical error. And Targo began silently stalking Wexford.
Over the years, there were a few more murders in which Wexford suspected Targo was involved but there was no evidence to back up that suspicion. Eventually Targo moved away. Wexford stored his suspicions in the back of his memory and also moved on.
Now, after all these years, Targo is back. Wexford spots him on the street and quietly follows him to a house once occupied by Wexford's long-time partner, Mike Burden. Targo briefly meets with a young Asian man there, then leaves. Wexford then sees a teen-age girl in a headscarf walk toward the house.
Mike Burden thinks his partner may be mistaken about Targ. After all, there has been no evidence that Targ was involved in any murder. Mike has other things to worry about: his schoolteacher wife feels that something is wrong with one of her star students, sixteen-year-old Tamima Rahman -- the girl Wexford going into the house shortly after Targo had left.
With the narration travelling back and forth from both ends of Wexford's career and the interspersion of Targo's activitiess and of Tamima's problem, the early parts of the book can be a confusing read. Soon the book picks up speed, though, and I am anxious to finish it.
What is Targo's game and what is his relationship with the respectable Rahman family? I'll find out tonight.