A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
“Donaldson will drive us,” Burden said in the tone a fond father uses when promising his small son a visit to a theme park. Donaldson had once been Wexford’s own driver and Wexford acknowledged that he would be pleased to see him. For the first time in their fifteen-year-long association they shook hands and Wexford said he would sit in the front. It amused him, but not in an unkind way, to see that Burden was put out. (Ch. 9)
The fifteen-year-long association of Reginald Wexford and Michael Burden is a matter of almost fifty years now: from 1964’s From Doon with Death to this latest instalment, No Man’s Nightingale, which appeared in 2013. The two men have aged slowly while Kingsmarkham swiftly evolves around them, and now the perennially elderly Wexford is retired, reading Gibbon in his conservatory while Burden occupies his old office, now full of monstrous modern furniture.
But this state of affairs can’t last. A vicar is strangled in her living room, and Burden immediately calls—hurrah!—on his old friend and superior to help him out. And of course Wexford, who knows everyone and sees all, ends up thoroughly embroiled in the case of the Rev. Sarah Hussain, her daughter Clarissa, her friends, enemies and the great web of criminal activity surrounding her murder. What starts out as a compelling pursuit ends up as something far more dangerous and murky, bringing death over the threshold of the family home and pitting Wexford, with his fervour and his intuitions, against Burden, whose rigid adherence to his own theories also has fatal consequences.
Is it believable? Not strictly. There’s a lot of coincidence even by Rendell’s standards, and Wexford’s genius guesswork often seems to tap into things only the author can really know. But that’s not the important thing; at least, not to me. What keeps me reading and (in some cases) repeatedly re-reading the Wexford novels, and what makes this latest one such a joy, is Wexford himself—brilliant, shambolic, saintly (but not in the anodyne sense)—and his interactions with the upright, uptight Burden (a role for Peter Capaldi if ever there was one). Retirement and elevation remove the long-established structure of their relationship, throwing it into chaos: a very civilised chaos, but still. It is fascinating, and involving, to watch the two men—for so long a classic left-brain-right-brain pairing, functioning in rather grumpy harmony—negotiate their way to a new understanding. I’ll certainly be re-reading No Man’s Nightingale. I might even start today.
I read the Kindle edition, Cornerstone Digital (15 Aug 2013), 288 pp. ASIN: B00CBVSV8Y. No Man’s Nightingale is available in hardback from Hutchinson, and will be released in paperback on 1 April 2014.