I’m a creature of habit, and I do need my quick crime fix. Although her last offerings were a bit disappointing, I picked up The Vault in my Lovely Library, looking forward to lazy mornings on the sofa with my book while the washing up waited patiently in the kitchen. It is a quick read, and the quality of the writing is exactly as you would expect from someone who must be a little old lady now, publishing a book each year. It’s hurried, but then that’s how I was reading it.
Based on the happenings in an earlier Rendell novel, A Sight for Sore Eyes, the novel opens with the discovery of four dead bodies in a coal hole of a nice villa in a nice London neighbourhood. Inspector Wexford, now retired, is spending some time in the capital, meets an old colleague and is asked to advise on the mystery. The problem of bringing in Wexford solved, all is back to normal. He walks around town, talks to people, is still very much in love with his wife, struggles with his feelings towards the daughter who’s not his favourite, and is pretty much the same old policeman we know and love (and got ever so slightly bored with). The case itself is not particularly exciting, as always, it’s the characters that make the book interesting, although they, too, have become set pieces. A bit more narrative exploration would have been good.
And there are the usual things that bug me: The fact that each case or problem is mirrored in the behaviour of Wexford’s children or friends. The increasingly embarrassing use of markers to place the novel in time (Do we really need to know what movies were shown in cinemas when this is supposed to take place? Great research there…). And, this time, the way you can trace how and when the author fell out of love with one of her characters: At first, the inspector on the case is portrayed as a great guy, until suddenly Rendell gets increasingly mean in her descriptions of him. It might be a clever way of showing how someone as used to his old ways as Wexford reacts to a new environment and working with new people. Or it might just be a case of Rendell changing her mind about him in the middle of writing. Overall, Rendell’s novels are still a great deal better than most crime fiction, although if you’re new to her books, do start with the older ones. It’s not necessary to have read A Sight For Sore Eyes in order to understand The Vault, but it’s a much better book.