Friday, February 13, 2015

Deal Me In 2015: Story #3 ("The Case of the Shaggy Caps" by Ruth Rendell)

Every other week I draw a random card to determine what short story I will read for the Deal Me In Short Story challenge. What are the odds that I would pick two Ruth Rendell stories in a row? Last week I read a story by Ruth Rendell and the protagonist was Inspector Wexford. I had forgotten that I had included two stories by that author in my list, and that both featured her series character.


It was a happy accident, because it gave me the opportunity to compare the stories. This story is from Murder on the Menu, but it was first published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in November 1977. By 1977, nine Inspector Wexford novels had been published. One of Rendell's most well-known standalone novels, A Judgement in Stone, was published in 1977. The story that I read (review here) two weeks ago, "The Mouse in the Corner," was first published in 1991 so they were written 14 years apart.

"The Case of the Shaggy Caps" by Ruth Rendell

Wexford partners with Inspector Burden, and their relationship is one of the best parts of this series. Here is Rendell's description of the two in this story:
Wexford, getting on for sixty, was a tall, ungainly, rather ugly  man who had once been fat to the point of obesity but had slimmed to gauntness for reasons of health. Nearly twenty years his junior, Burden had the slenderness of a man who has always been thin. His face was ascetic, handsome in a frosty way. The older man, who had a good wife who looked after him devotedly, nevertheless always looked as if his clothes came off the peg from the War on Want Shop, while the younger, a widower, was sartorially immaculate.

In this story, Hannah Kingman's death was the result of a fall from the balcony of a 5th floor apartment in a high rise. Wexford has been on a holiday in Italy, and Burden has been handling the case, which was initially thought to be suicide. Then Hannah's brother comes in and accuses Hannah's husband of attempting to poison her a week before her death at a dinner party. The party was attended by only four people, Hannah, her husband, the brother, and the husband's ex-girlfriend. Burden was convinced that something fishy is going on but the evidence doesn't agree.

This is another substantial and enjoyable story, where Wexford and Burden solve a mystery, although they may have trouble proving that they are right. The story is fairly long, about 28 pages in the paperback that I read. Even at that length there is not much room for characterization beyond the two investigators, who have an interesting relationship. Burden has his prejudices, and Wexford is the voice of reason.

My Deal Me In list of short stories is here. Jay at Bibliophilopolis hosts the challenge. Every week he gathers links from participants. If you are interested in a wide variety of short stories (and sometimes essays and poems), try his latest Wrap Up post.

12 comments:

  1. I have probably read more by Rendell than almost any other writer. Her longevity made that easy.

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    1. Patti, I have read most of the Wexford series, but not so much of the standalone books. I don't think I have read any of the Barbara Vine books. But I do want to broaden my reading of her books.

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  2. Never read this story TracyK - will seek it out as I've been revisiting the Wexfords of late - may have been at his best in the 70s I think.

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    1. Sergio, I plan to seek out more short stories by her. I agree the earlier Wexford books were the best. I think I missed all the Wexford books that were published in the 90's so I am going to try those and see what I think.

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  3. I've always admired Rendell's writing ability, and her Reg Wexford is a terrific character. I'm glad you enjoyed this story. Oh, and I like Wexford's relationship with Burden, too :-)

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    1. Margot, I have all the Wexford books and plan to reread them, but as I said above, I need to read the 1990's books that I missed first. This story was a good reminder to get back to that project.

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  4. Not tried her yet, but soon I hope! Glad to see your story challenge is going well,

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    1. Me, too, Col. I had fears that I had bitten off too much with this challenge but all experiences so far have been good.

      Rendell has written so many books of so many types, you should be able to find some you like. The Wexford's could be too tame for you, but the standalone books are very different.

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  5. Tracy, every review of a Ruth Rendell story or novel is a reminder for me to read her work. I'm okay with a 28-page story that I can read in one sitting.

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    1. Prashant, Rendell has lots of short stories out there, I hope to find more of them.

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  6. As I said about your last Rendell story, I'm sure I must have read this but don't remember it. The Murder on the Menu cover is ideal for you!

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    1. Moira, Rendell short stories are a new discovery for me, but then you know I have not read many short stories for many years. I used to read science fiction short stories in my twenties...

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