Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Kissing the Gunner's Daughter: Ruth Rendell


It seems that those who read Ruth Rendell's crime fiction are divided between those who prefer the puzzle plots of the Wexford books and the fans of her standalone novels, which are primarily psychological thrillers. I am in the camp that prefers the Inspector Wexford series, and I have read nearly all of them. For my taste, the standalone books are too tense and uncomfortable. However, many reviewers have compared this book, Kissing the Gunner's Daughter, to her psychological thrillers, and I suppose it is closer to them than most of the Wexford books. The book does have its dark elements and most of the characters (except for the policemen) and not very pleasant people.

The book has a wonderful opening chapter. Detective Sergeant Martin of Kingsmarkham CID drives his son to school and along the way discovers that his son has a replica gun in his case. Martin takes the very large and dangerous-looking replica gun and puts it in his pocket. It is his day off and he stops at a bank; while there, the bank is robbed while he is still in the queue for the cashier. Things go badly, and DS Martin dies at the scene. We are told from the beginning that this incident will link up to later deaths.

The bank robbery and the murder of Martin is not solved over the next few months. Then there is a bloody incident at Tancred, home of the wealthy and well-known author Davina Flory. Several members of the family are killed, and Davina's 17-year-old granddaughter, Daisy, has been left for dead. She survives and is the only witness to the crime. Her memories of it are shaky at best. On the face of it, the crime seems to be a robbery gone wrong.

There are many inconsistencies that the police cannot reconcile. Tancred is isolated and on a large wooded estate; tracking arrivals and departures is difficult. There is a friend of Davina's daughter (Daisy's mother) who has left town inexplicably and cannot be found. Daisy's father, never a part of her life, is investigated. Daisy's moods swing violently, sometimes she is inconsolable, sometimes euphoric.

Thus the story begins very well, and in general, it is a good mystery. But I was still disappointed in this novel. The ending was no surprise at all to me and it takes a long time to get there. A good bit of time is spent on Wexford's relationship with his daughter, Sheila, who is planning to marry a man that Wexford detests. Those issues are a counterpoint to his relationship with Daisy, with whom he has to spend a good deal of time, yet it still grew tiresome to me.

Even with my reservations, I don't regret reading the book, and I would encourage others to do so. Overall, Ruth Rendell is a good storyteller and very adept at creating interesting characters. Some reviewers consider it the best Wexford book. Many were surprised and shocked by the ending. My recommendation is to give it a chance; there are many elements to enjoy.

For a much more positive take on this book, see the review at The Passing Tramp.


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Publisher:  Mysterious Press, 1993. Orig. pub. 1992.
Length:     378 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Inspector Wexford, #15
Setting:     UK
Genre:      Police procedural
Source:    My husband found this book for me in a San Jose bookstore, 2008.



20 comments:

  1. I've not tried anything by her yet. I have a few of her non-series books though if a recent read of Patricia Highsmith is an indicator, I'm not necessarily a fan of psychological thrillers! Here's hoping!

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    1. Col, I am pretty sure you would like the non-series books better, but based on all the Rendell books I have read (recently enough to remember) they do move more slowly than you like.

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  2. My mystery group did a Rendell/Vine month in January. We all read different books and it was a very interesting meeting with each relating what they read and how they fared. Some liked the book they had selected - some did not. In any case, I've not read any of the Rendell books, only a couple of her Vine books. One day...

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    1. I went back and reread that post, Kay. Interesting results. I will be reading more of the Rendell books, and I have a few of the non-Wexford books to try.

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  3. I know exactly what you mean, Tracy, about the difference between most of the Wexford books, and Rendell's standalones. They really are different, aren't they? I like both, but I think I have a slight preference for the Wexford series, and I'm glad you've reminded me of this entry in it.

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    1. I really need to try more of the non-Wexford books, Margot.

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  4. I haven't read any of her Wexford mysteries although I've seen lots on TV. I'm wondering if they should be read in order or if it doesn't matter, what do you think?

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    1. That is a difficult question, Katrina. I read at least the first ten in order(maybe more) before 1990, and then five or six of the later ones after 2000. Wexford and his partner Burden do change over time and that is interesting. But I think you can go either way. At least in this one, I think you get enough background that you would not notice if you had not read the first ones. Rereading the first one a few years back, I found it slow.

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  5. Miss the Ruth Rendell challenge at Patti's. Frankly, I have never read Rendell before.

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    1. I think you would like some of the books by Rendell, Prashant, there is a lot of variety. Especially since she wrote books over a 50 year period.

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  6. Tempted to read this one, Tracy, despite my bad experience with the one I read. This sounds interesting. Coherent, even. ;)

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    1. Well, of course, I had to go check out your review. Good review, even if you did not care for the book. Maybe you would like some of the standalone books, which are entirely different, I think. I have not read many of them, so I am no expert.

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  7. I read all her early books, then lost interest. I picked this one up to try again (chosen at random) and remember disliking it, I found it long and not engrossing and very annoying. So I didn't really take her up again after that...

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    1. I remember really liking her books, the earlier ones (Wexford books). Then when I came back to them in the early 2000s, they did not seem so good. So either my tastes changed or the series changed a lot. I do want to try various standalone books, since I have a few on the TBR. And finish off the Wexford books that I think I missed along the way.

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  8. This might be one I'll consider after reading the first in the series for this FFB.

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    1. It has many good points, Rick, and I would be interested to hear your take on it.

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  9. I'm reading all these classic novels...but I must admit crime fiction is more fun! Never read Rendell so this review was an eye opener. Trying to get through semi detective..."My Name is Red" (Pamuk) but it is also filled with whirling dervishes and parables of sultans and pasha's ! Great review!

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    1. Thanks, Nancy. I have heard a bit about My Name is Red and it sounds interesting. I am eager to see what you think of it once you have finished the book.

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  10. I prefer her early Wexfords - they are full of rather acid social observation, replaced in later books by clunky discussion of current "issues" like feminism and eco-protest. Wexford, of course, has liberal views unusual for a bloke of his age and standing, which presumably the reader shares. Or was Rendell taking the chance to preach? I wonder how much of this was due to editorial "advice"? ("Make the reader feel smug, Ruth, not ashamed of their curtains.")

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    1. Lucy, I am going to try some from the early years... which will be rereads... and some more from the 1990s, I think. I did wonder if she chose to cover issues in the later books because they were selling well anyway, so why not support her point of view at the same time?

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