Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford (The Vault, 2011, etc.) may have retired from the Kingsmarkham Police, but murder keeps finding him, this time by invading his own neighborhood.
Having a new vicar who’s an unmarried Irish-Indian mother has scandalized old-guard warden Dennis Cuthbert and quite a few members of the St. Peter’s congregation. But would any of them really have hated Sarah Hussain enough to have strangled her? Detective Superintendent Mike Burden invites Wexford, his old boss, to accompany him on his rounds of questioning. One promising line of inquiry ends with the suicide of a suspect who confesses to unhappiness and bad behavior but not to murder; another, to a split between two old colleagues when Burden arrests gardener Duncan Crisp, who Wexford believes is innocent. It’s hard carrying on an investigation with no warrant card after the case has been officially closed, but Wexford has a secret weapon: Maxine Sams, the superlatively gossipy cleaner he shares with several neighbors. Maxine, among the most sharply realized of all Rendell’s characters, is essentially a comic figure, but there’s nothing comic about her son Jason, a supermarket manager whose dodgy relationship with his landlord, Jeremy Legg, goes seriously awry with the unexpected return from Europe of Jeremy’s ex-wife, Diane Stow, whose council flat Jeremy has been illegally renting out. Still more subplots (who fathered Sarah’s daughter Clarissa?) and hints of old sins (how did her husband, Leo, really die?) filtered through unreliable memories and personalities give the neighborhood a sense of thick and vibrant life, though they virtually guarantee that the revelation of Sarah’s killer will be only one more in a series of revelations that come not with a triumphant flourish but a dying fall.
The insistence on plumbing the past makes this sedate, quirky whodunit read like an uneven collaboration between Rendell and her doomy alter ego Barbara Vine (The Child’s Child, 2012, etc.).