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Kissing the Gunner's Daughter (1992)

by Ruth Rendell

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Inspector Wexford (15)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
8161627,572 (3.66)16
Called to Tancred House, to a scene of ghastly carnage, Chief Inspector Wexford must bring his considerable detective skills to bear on a case with no witnesses, two suspects who have vanished into thin air, conflicting clues, and a kaleidoscope of motives.
  1. 00
    The Killing Doll by Ruth Rendell (cometahalley)
    cometahalley: Intensità nello scrutare le profondità della mente umana, le perversioni e le devianze.
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» See also 16 mentions

English (12)  Spanish (2)  German (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (16)
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
Two horrific incidents (one a bank robbery and shooting, the other the slaying of a family on a wooded estate) spiral into one of Rendell's darker psychological murder mysteries. One of the few I've read from her which could arguably be described as a locked-room/impossible mystery. So so good. ( )
  Amateria66 | May 24, 2024 |
A good read. A policeman is murdered almost on page 1. Three family members are murdered a few pages later. They're unconnected events of course. Or are they? It's the 3 murders however which occupy most of the book. The deceased are a woman, her husband, her daughter. Her granddaughter, though injured in the massacre, survives.

Several suspects, so little to go on. Inspector Wexford follows several false trails. The characters, even minor ones, are well drawn, and so when the murderer is revealed, on almost the last page, it's a real surprise.... but a believable one

( )
  Margaret09 | Apr 15, 2024 |
Wexford Proved Wrong?
Review of the Recorded Books audiobook edition (1994) narrated by Davina Porter, of the original hardcover from Hutchinson (UK) (January 1992)

'Kissing the gunner’s daughter is a dangerous business.’
‘That expression,’ Burden said. ‘What does it mean? Someone said it to me the other day, I can’t think who it was . . .’
‘It was me,’ said Vine.
‘What does it mean? It means being flogged. When they were going to flog a man in the Royal Navy they first tied him to a cannon on deck. Kissing the gunner’s daughter was therefore a dangerous enterprise.'


I won't bury the lede here, but will get right to it. At the end of the book Chief Inspector Wexford explains the solution of the main crime to his colleagues DI Mike Burden and Sergeant Vine as they are on their way to apprehend the culprits. Then they walk in on a situation which seems to completely contradict the explanation which Wexford had just provided. And the book stops right there, leaving the reader hanging at the very end. So you have to write your own ending. Was Wexford wrong and the actual culprits are who they walked in on? Or was Wexford correct, but there is an additional twist which he didn't foresee? In any case, an Unsatisfactory Ending Alert™ tag is required, or at the very least an Ambiguous Ending Alert™.

See cover at https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/...
The front cover of the original Hutchinson (UK) 1992 hardcover. Image sourced from Goodreads.

Up until that conclusion, this had been quite an excellent Wexford mystery. The investigation involved quite a number of suspects and even the subplot with Wexford's daughter Sheila was interesting & sometimes humorous this time, instead of tedious. Sheila has fallen in love with a pretentious contemporary novelist and is even set to abandon her acting career for him. Wexford is in turns offended and often enraged by the arrogance and antics of the writer and despairs for his future relationship with Sheila. That part of the book did have a satisfactory conclusion at least.

This was Wexford #15 in the series of 24 novels. I had previously skipped over #15 to #18 as they were proving difficult to source. No convenient Kindle eBooks exist and the Toronto Public Library online system was struck down in October 2023 (which is still ongoing) by a ransomware attack (rumoured to be Russian based) which prevents you from locating and placing books on hold throughout the system (short of physically going around Toronto to each branch personally and searching the shelves by hand). I've decided to complete my Wexford/Rendell binge by sourcing the audiobooks which are not ideal as I am also trying to spot Wexford's personal Laws and Rules along the way. Listening on audio might cause me to miss them.

On the Berengaria Ease of Solving Scale® I found this to be a fairly difficult solve, an 8 out of 10, which was further complicated by the ending which undermined the solution. I did suspect one aspect of the solution, but that may have been due to a vague memory from 30 years ago, as I had previously read Kissing the Gunner's Daughter (1993) and that paperback carried over when I rolled my book database into Goodreads back in 2010.

The narration by Davina Porter was excellent in all voices in this edition. I sourced this through the free Audible Plus library. There is an additional audiobook edition Kissing the Gunner's Daughter (Audible Studios 2009) narrated by Robin Bailey which is currently not free.

Wexford's Laws
There were no Wexford's Laws mentioned in this book. Wexford's Laws are quirky thoughts or observations that Wexford makes. The previous book The Veiled One (Wexford #14, 1988) contained Wexford's Third Law.

Trivia and Links
Kissing the Gunner's Daughter was adapted for television as part of the Ruth Rendell / Inspector Wexford Mysteries TV series (1987-2000) as Season 6 Episodes 8 to 11 in 1992 with actor George Baker as Inspector Wexford. You can watch the entire episode on YouTube here. NOTE: The TV adaptation "fixes" the confusing ending of the novel. ( )
  alanteder | Jan 12, 2024 |
3.5 Stars This book was just slow for me for some reason. I had a hard time concentrating. It was just boring. Im not sure why?? ( )
  EmpressReece | Aug 22, 2016 |
In Kissing the Gunner's Daughter, long-time supporting character Sergeant Martin gets a first name. His adventure in chapter one might have been the author's argument against arming British police officers. I feel very sorry for his young son.

There's a new addition to the Kingsmarkham police force: Detective Barry Vine (named for Ms. Rendell's nom de plume, Barbara Vine?). He's a good man and Wexford appreciates his work. Does that make up for the fact that Reg is again stuck with the pathologist he doesn't want around instead of the one he respects?

Dr. Basil Sumner-Quist doesn't even come close to vexing Reg as much as his favorite daughter, Sheila. Another book that came out the same year as this book was Maybe He's Just a Jerk by Carol Rosen. It would have been a suitable gift for Sheila, especially with a bookmark in the right chapter. Reg would have had to send it anonymously. Sheila won't hear a word against her new man. Dora has more patience with writer Augustine Carey than Reg has. Perhaps she would be as apprehensive for their daughter as her husband is if she'd read the book. Besides setting off jerk alarm bells, Sheila's new love struck me as an 'Emperor's New Clothes' author: praised because critics and readers are afraid to admit they don't understand his books. I suspect that's because they're rubbish.

Another writer has been murdered, along with her husband and daughter. The granddaughter manages to make it to the phone and get help in time to avoid bleeding to death.

It's a frustrating case. The employees' houses are too far away from the main house for them to have heard the gunshots. All the houses are in a wood that combines new growth with ancient. Daisy, as the granddaughter is called, gives a description of the masked man who shot her. It resembles one of the few suspects, a respectable young man.

As usual, there are more than enough false trails Wexford and the readers get led down. Two persons were responsible for that bloody night. One of them was easy to figure out, but the other took me by surprise.

I wish that Ms. Rendell had bothered to include Sylvia's married surname in this book. Her husband and father-in-law have cameo roles, so there was opportunity for that. (If it was mentioned in one of the earlier books, I don't remember.)

The descriptions of Tancred House, where the murders take place, and the surrounding Cheriton forest are beautiful -- aside from the actual murders. Squeamish readers would probably have preferred less details there.



I'm afraid we have to wait until chapter 27 to find out where the title comes from, but it's an interesting expression. ( )
  JalenV | May 27, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Rendell, Ruthprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brinis, HiliaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Meyer, Jackie MerriCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Odom, MelCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Probst, KenAuthor photosecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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In memory of Eleanor Sullivan,
1928-1991
A great friend.
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The thirteenth of May is the unluckiest day of the year. Things will be infinitely worse if it happens to fall on a Friday.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Called to Tancred House, to a scene of ghastly carnage, Chief Inspector Wexford must bring his considerable detective skills to bear on a case with no witnesses, two suspects who have vanished into thin air, conflicting clues, and a kaleidoscope of motives.

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