- A Reginald Wexford mystery
- A new road, more cars, trucks, noise, pollution, fewer trees, less green space
- Tree-sitters and tent dwellers crowd the woods
- A kidnapping, a warning, danger for Wexford’s own family
- Wexford must solve mystery, find hostages, before harm comes to his wife and others
- A logic-defying, mysterious puzzle with many odd pieces
- Road Rage is not just a fine mystery tale with psychological groundings, but provides food for thought on one of today’s thorny issues.
- I heartily recommend it.
A Reginald Wexford mystery
Ruth Rendell’s mysteries have a strong psychological foundation, and Road Rage, like most of her books, at least the many that I’ve read, has an edginess, an uneasiness, that violence is just around the next corner. Here, she serves up a tale of an extraordinary scheme, inspired by good intentions, that goes tragically wrong.
Her title doesn’t reflect the road rage most of us think of upon seeing or hearing the term. It is not the typical give-’em-the-finger-salute, get-out-of-my-way kind of road rage that we see almost daily on our highways and byways. But it is indeed typical of the needs of modern society to get from here to there as fast as possible.
A new road, more cars, trucks, noise, pollution, fewer trees, less green space
This road rage is focused on a new highway bypass that will be built through a lovely part of the English countryside, a green space treasured by most of its residents. To make way for more cars and trucks and the attendant noise and pollution, trees will be cut down, habitats of animals and birds and flowers destroyed, wetlands drained, and all manner of environmental depredations will take place.
Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford of Kingsmarkham, walks through Framhurst Great Forest in a gloomy mood brought on by, among other things, the knowledge that in not too many months, much of what he has so enjoyed would be gone, unless, as he puts it in his musing, ” . . . the impossible happened and they made a tunnel for (the bypass) or put it on stilts.”
Tree-sitters and tent dwellers crowd the woods
Wexford is saddened by what is to happen, but he must put that aside because of the many other irons in his fire. Much as he regrets the loss of the trees, the green space, fresh-smelling air, he leaves environmental activism to his wife, Dora. She has joined a committee which is resisting the new bypass in traditional ways. But soon a motley collection of anti-development groups appears in the area—living in improvised “houses” built in the tree-tops and in tents on the ground. Some of these “tree-people” declare they intend to stop the bypass by whatever means necessary. Including violence.
A kidnapping, a warning, danger for Wexford’s own family
The story goes into high gear when Dora, Wexford’s wife, and four other local people, a teenage boy, a married couple, and a young single woman, are kidnapped by a group that demand the bypass be stopped—or else. With Wexford’s own wife in danger of her life, he expects to be left out of the search for the kidnappers. He is wrong in that expectation; the Chief Constable tells him, regretfully, that they are short-handed, and Wexford must lead the team. Wexford must put aside his personal life, regardless of its difficulties, for the good of the community and the investigative team he leads.
Wexford must solve mystery, find hostages, before harm comes to his wife and others
Finding the hostages, solving the mystery, preventing the murder of the hostages by the deadline is the central plot; a tender and touching sub-plot is Wexford’s gradual realization how very much Dora means to him, and the stress lays heavily on his relationship with their two daughters. Rendell, as always, creates human characters, who have sorrows and joys and disappointments as do we all.
Road Rage has enough twists and turns and tangles of clues and red-herrings and intriguing characters to satisfy the most demanding mystery reader. I defy the reader to get to the answers before Wexford and his team does. And the answers will be surprising. At least they were to me, although I picked up on the hints so cleverly and subtly dropped into the story by Rendell.
A logic-defying, mysterious puzzle with many odd pieces
To find the hostages in the short time allowed by their captors, to keep them alive, Wexford and his cohorts have before them some logic-defying puzzles:
- Is the earlier murder of a young woman connected with the bypass resistance? Was a cab driver the murderer? One detective insists he is, Wexford thinks not. A good, well-developed twist in the tale.
- Why was a particular cab company selected to pick up the people who didn’t turn up where they were expected, but instead were taken hostage? Is the driver suspected in the earlier murder involved in the hostage taking?
- Why was Dora released from captivity early on? Was it only because she was Wexford’s wife? Or was it because she’d been given a message to deliver?
- Dora describes in detail the room in which she and the others were held. Why couldn’t Wexford and the team locate the place? Were they looking too far away? Or too close?
- The body of a young woman who was also a hostage is found in strange circumstances. Was she murdered or did she die accidentally?
There are many more parts to this puzzle, but I will leave them for you to find and solve along with Wexford and his team. On the way, Rendell has the tree people, the resisters, the representatives and mouthpieces of the various groups, explain why they consider their actions right. She helps the reader understand their positions, without supporting their violent actions in any manner.
Road Rage is not just a fine mystery tale with psychological groundings, but provides food for thought on one of today’s thorny issues.
I heartily recommend it.