The Vault is the latest Inspector Wexford novel. When I reviewed the last one The Monster in the Box, I mentioned that some reviewers had found it a bit sub-standard and my response was that a sub-standard Ruth Rendell was better than others best. However, this latest one is rather thin on plot and I really feel that perhaps it is time to retire Reg permanently, he is already retired from the force in this title, and seems rather lost and unsure. It had been mooted that The Monster in the Box might be the last Wexford novel and from interviews given, it seems that he is Ruth Rendell's least favourite character. So why has she written another one?
There is certainly very little new about The Vault as it harks back to a case which took place in an earlier novel - A Sight for Sore Eyes. I remember this one very well because I found it quite disturbing and feel it fitted better into the psychological thrillers she writes under the name of Barbara Vine. The ending left me feeling really sick, not a nauseous sickness, don't get me wrong, but the sickness of realising what was going to happen to the main protagonist.
My feeling about using this and adding a layer of mystery onto it for Wexford to assist in solving, is a bit of a cheat and in my opinion, though this book can stand on its own feet (just), you cannot really enjoy it or get the most out of it without reading this earlier title and I recommend that you do. When it was published one of the reviews stated "it grips you from the very first page and has you by the throat until the inevitable, horrible denouement" and I am certainly not going to disagree with that comment.
Inspector Wexford has now retired and he and his wife divide their time between Kingsmarkham and Hampstead and a chance meeting in a street with someone he had known briefly as a young police constable, Tom Ede, changes Reg's retirement plans. Tom is now a DI and is very keen to recruit Wexford as an adviser on a difficult case. The first thought that came into my mind was Why? Well, without this there would be no story but it is a rather thin hook to bring Wexford back into the limelight.
A house is being renovated and a basement planned. It is clear there has been a staircase leading down to an underground cellar but it has been bricked up and the only way in is through a manhole outside in the garden. When the builders investigate they find three skeletons which have obviously been there a long time. Once the cellar is opened up and the police investigate they find that a fourth body has been recently dumped there. So, did the murderer know of the earlier deaths and decided to add one more to those already there, or was it coincidence?
Apart from the main story line there is a sub-plot concerning his daughter Sylvia, who is stabbed by her young, jealous lover and I really feel that this could have been abandoned without any problem at all as it adds nothing to the narrative and seems to be there to merely illustrate, as in previous books, how torn Wexford is in his feelings and treatment of his two daughters, Shelia being his favourite and Sylvia the one who always seems to cause trouble. I always found her a bit of a bore I must admit and I found this part of the book thin and, to me, it smacked of padding.
I am aware that any comments of mine are superfluous and will make no difference to the sales of this book so I am quite conscience free about stating how very disappointed I was with this story. I was thrilled when it dropped through my letterbox having been a fan of Ruth Rendell for some twenty years now and having read everything I can lay my hands on by her, and her alter ego Barbara Vine, and this is the first time I have been let down by one of her books.
I do dislike not liking a book, especially when it is by an author I admire so much but I really think that perhaps it is time for Inspector Wexford to bow out. And I hate saying that, I really do.