Friday, 1 May 1998

Ruth Rendell: The Speaker of Mandarin (1984)

Edition: Arrow
Review number: 40

This is a short member of the Inspector Wexford series of crime novels. The first half describes a holiday he had in China; the second his investigation of the murder of a middle-aged woman who was on a coach-party he met there.

The description of the trip to China is the most interesting part of the novel; the murder and investigation seem almost to have been put in to pad the novel out and to fit it in with the general themes of the series.

The juxtaposition of the two parts does mean that the novel suffers from the complaint I particularly dislike about Ngaio Marsh: the strange coincidence which means the investigator meets the victim beforehand.

The mystery also has a rather abrupt ending, and is rather unsatisfactory; to explain why I would have to give it away. In conclusion, there are better Wexford books, but the description of a holiday in China before these were commonplace is worth reading.

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