RUTH RENDELL – Kissing the Gunner’s Daughter. Inspector Wexford #15. Hutchinson, UK, hardcover, 1992. Mysterious Press, US, hardcover, 1992; paperback, 1993.

   Well, this is it. No more will Mike (Byrden) turn to Reg (Wexford) with a look of bewilderment and/or irritation. At least I’ve seen ger (Rendell[ quoted as saying it’s probably the kast, but these things aren’t chiseled in stone.

   The book opens with one of Wexford’s minions, off-duty and taking care of personal business, being fatally shot in a bank robbery. The criminals are not apprehended. Several months later and not too far away, a aged and prominent writer, her husband, and her daughter are killed, and her granddaughter badly wounded, by intruders. Are the crimes connected? What do you think? How? Ah, therein lies the story.

   As always, Rendell’s focus is on people rather than clues, and she creates a satisfying group of none-too-attractive ones here with her skewer-like pen. At one point I was ready to indict her for snobbery because of the unremitting unsavoriness of her lower-class characters, and then I realized that no, it’s not just them; just about all of these people are unpleasant (Including Wexford’s actress daughter, but that’s nothing new; she’s been an ass for as long as we‘ve known her).

   On my more optimistic days I suspect that Rendell is a misanthrope; mostly I fear she is an accurate observer of the human condition.

   Though she is an excellent writer, I am not a real Rendell fan (under either name) apart from the Wexford books; primarily, I expect, because I do not care for the people about whom she writes, or the situations in which she places them.

   And really, this is not the best Wexford. I began to suspect much of the outcome far too early, and found the resolution of Wexford’s problems with his besotted daughter(she is such a twit) far too pat Still. even a mediocre Wexford book beats a lot of the tripe being published and shouldn’t be missed — particularly if there are to be no more. Recommended.

— Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #2, July 1992.

Editorial Update:   Barry was not to know, but this was not the last the world saw of Inspector Wexford. I do not know how reliable the rumors were at the time, but the sixteenth in the series, Simisola, came out two years later, followed by eight more. No Man’s Nightingale (2013) is, however, all but certain to be the last. Ms Rendell died earlier this year at the age of 85.