The Monster in the Box" is the twenty-second "Inspector Wexford" crime novel by that esteemed and prolific past mistress of the genre, Ruth Rendell. Rendell, writing as herself and Barbara Vine, has published more than seventy books, British mysteries/thrillers/ police procedurals. She's won numerous awards, including three Edgars, the highest from Mystery Writers of America; three Gold Daggers, a Silver Dagger, and a Diamond Dagger for outstanding contribution to the genre from Great Britain's Crime Writers' Association. She's been made a lifetime peer, and sits in the House of Lords. "The Monster" takes us back to the beginning of Wexford's career as a policeman in the 1960's, and as many reviewers have noted, gives us more personal background on him than we've previously had: included in which is the author's laying of an imaginative and entertaining red herring into his reminiscences: his meeting of Dora, in Cornwall. Wexford is also full of amusing asides as to how different the 1960's were than the present day: but, as many reviewers have also noted, that's a little confusing, as the present day in this book is the 1990's, which are not actually quite the present day. At any rate, Wexford finds his way to his base in Kingsmarkham in this book. Outside the house within which the first murder he investigates took place, he spots a man walking his dog, Eric Targo; with no evidence at all, decides he is the killer. He continues to think Targo, who is stalking him, is the killer as a second murder takes place, but tells nobody of his suspicions, as he's absolutely no evidence against the animal lover. Then Targo disappears for quite a few years;on his return to town, the odd murders resume. And one of Targo's pet lions gets loose, an amusing interlude, for sure. Well, many reviewers have already noted that this is not precisely the most likely of plots, but, in company with Rendell's always fine writing, it kept me going, I read it at a sitting; and, to give credit where due, Rendell does come up with a very last minute twist that sure got me. Many reviewers - including me -- have also noted Rendell's growing concern with political correctness, particularly in this Wexford series, and her perhaps over concern, insofar as the good of her mysteries are concerned, with the women's issues of the day. This material makes up a subplot about an Asian family in the town; various women of the Inspector's acquaintance are concerned that the family's bright daughter is to be forced into an inappropriate arranged marriage. However, most of this concern is centered in one of Wexford's support staff, Detective Sergeant Hannah Goldsmith; and this time, at least, Wexford - and his creator - do seem to take the junior detective's pc concerns with a grain of salt. And Rendell does, in fact, manage to merge subplot and plot by book's end, very satisfyingly to me. New readers to Rendell would probably be best served by beginning the Inspector Wexford works earlier in the series. Longtime readers who have learned to appreciate the writer's many gifts should appreciate "Monster," even if it isn't quite top of the author's prolific output; I did.
"The Monster in the Box"