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The Monster in the Box by Ruth Rendell

The Monster in the Box

by Ruth Rendell

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Reg Wexford spots in the street the man he believes committed a murder and got away with it; the first murder he investigated as a junior officer some 40 years earlier. Not unnaturally seeing Eric Targo like this puts Wexford in a reflective mood and he reveals to his fellow officer Mike Burden the events that occurred during and after that first investigation. He also spends a fair amount of time in contemplation of his early personal life, including how he met his wife and other events that took place prior to the first novel in the series. When Targo is possibly involved in a new crime things become more critical. At the same time Mike’s wife Jenny, a teacher, and DS Hanna Goldsmith embroil Wexford in a case in which they believe a teenage girl in an Asian family is being prevented from attending school.

The part of the book that deals with Wexford’s obsession with Targo (and Targo’s with Wexford) is compellingly told. I got a really strong sense of why the man bothered Wexford so much and how galling it must be for a policeman to know someone is guilty of murder but not be able to prove that guilt. That such a thing would become an obsession seems perfectly natural in the context of both this story and Wexford’s longer one that has played out over the series. I didn’t think that Targo’s penchant for playing games with Wexford nor his hurriedly described motivations for his crimes rang as true though.

When we move to the ‘case’ of Tamima Kahn and her family I found the book less successful all together. Both Jenny Burden and Hanna Goldsmith are well-intentioned but utterly patronising in their attitudes to the Kahns (and any other Asians encountered) and I’m not convinced that Rendell acknowledging this within the story (by having one of the extended Kahn family tell the two women they are being rude) makes up for it. And even if it does, for me this thread remains far less interesting because of the tone and made the overall book drag a little in places.

The Monster in the Box is apparently to be Wexford’s last outing and in some senses this is fitting in that most people probably finish their careers with a slow whimper rather than a big bang. I can see how fans might think this an unfitting way for him to finish up his career because neither case requires much in the way of Wexford’s investigative skills to resolve and there is a generally unsatisfactory feel about the resolution to both threads. However as a non-fan I thought it one of the best, most believable portrayals of him that I’ve read, not only with respect to his obsession but also his desire to reflect on his own life and the social changes he’s seen in his time as a man and an officer. For that alone the book is worth reading.

What about the audio book?

Nigel Anthony has a quiet voice with a hint of an accent which seems to suit the gentle pace of this story. He doesn’t do a completely different voice for each person but seems to pull off the changes in character with very slight changes in tone or volume. This is my favourite kind of narration and I would definitely look for more audiobooks narrated by Nigel Anthony. ( )
  bsquaredinoz | Mar 31, 2013 |
Ruth Rendell is one of my favorite authors and I like the Wexford series, but this one was a little slow for me. I hung in there, though, and felt rewarded at the end. The plot: a serial killer has stalked Inspector Wexford for decades but there has never been overt evidence linking him to the crimes and because the stalking incidents all looked coincidental Wexford has never had enough grounds to put anyone on his trail. An unexpected pleasure of reading this story was that it takes Wexford down a personal memory lane and I got a chance to learn some background on this great character. ( )
  naimahaviland | Jan 7, 2013 |
Not QUITE the last of Inspector Wexford (huzzah!) even though the end is drawing inexorably closer (pshaw, pshaw). This next-to-latest in the series has its roots in the early days of Wexford's career, when he became convinced that Eric Targo was a murderer. For years, his life and Targo's have intersected, in large part -- Wexford believes -- because Targo is taunting him. Eventually, the novel moves from the past to the present; Targo reappears, and Wexford is able, at long last, to build a real case against him.

Along the way, we are given a delightful excursion into Wexford's personal past, revealing how he met and married Dora. And we are treated to the usual odd mix of characters, presented with Rendell's usual subtlety. We also have the usual socially-relevant subplot, again involving Asians and the hyper-politically-correct DC Goldsmith. I found the ending a little dissapointing (after all that buildup, I hoped for more of a ahocker) but all in all this is another great read. ( )
  annbury | Jul 20, 2012 |
"Some years before, when his daughter Sylvia had been taking a course in psychotherapeutic counselling, she had taught him about the 'box' as a means of dealing with anxieties.
"'If you've a problem weighing on your mind, Dad, you have to visualize a box - maybe quite small, the size of a matchbox. You open it and put your worry inside - now don't start laughing. It works. Close the box with the worry inside and put it away somewhere, inside a drawer, say.'
"'Why not throw it in the sea?'
"'That's a bit final. You may want to take it out again one day.'
"'And this is going to take all problems away?'
"'I don't say that, Dad, but it might help. If you find yourself thinking of the worry, you also think it's locked away in the box so you can't touch it.'
"He had scoffed. But still he tried it. Several times since then he had put Targo [the suspected serial killer] in a box, and sometimes it had worked well. He tried it again now, carefully placing Targo and the white van and ... his own fear into the box and hiding it in a drawer of the desk in his office. And the white van failed to reappear." pp.139-40
  maryoverton | May 8, 2012 |
When you read this book you realize that Ms. Rendell is coming to the end of her wonderful Inspector Wexford series. I for one am sad to see this, but look forward to reading her next book "The Vault" which is recently out. In this book the enigmatic Wexford is being haunted by a ghost from his past. A ghost that he first met when he was just a young copper and newly on the force. A ghost who Wexford is convinced is a serial killer, but one that was never brought to justice. And then lo and behold the ghost comes back into Wexford's life after many years absence and Wexford and Burden are dealing with a present-day murder. Again Wexford has no evidence or proof other than his own assurance that this man is a serial killer and is still in the business, so to speak. I enjoyed the book. The first part of the book was especially strong, but the ending is a bit disappointing even though we know that things don't always work out the way they should in real life. I love Wexford and have enjoyed reading him over the past many years. He's a copper's copper and one who has good instincts and an intelligence that have all helped him be very successful in his long and illustrious career. Fortunately for me, I have still got quite a few non-series books written by the remarkable Ms. Rendell, and I'm going to enjoy getting through this list. She is a remarkable writer. ( )
  Romonko | Feb 17, 2012 |
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Although the plot mechanics linking these two story lines are a bit creaky, it’s a pleasure to have flashbacks to a boyish Wexford in hot pursuit of girls of a certain alluring type.
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To Simon, my son, who told me about the box
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Inspector Wexford tries to convince Mike Burden that a man Wexford has long known, Eric Targo, is the killer behind a series of apparently motiveless murders.

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