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Wolf to the Slaughter (1967)

by Ruth Rendell

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Inspector Wexford (3)

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6921829,423 (3.49)9
Anita Margolis had vanished. There was no body, no crime - nothing more concrete than an anonymous letter and the intriguing name of Smith. According to headquarters, it wasn't to be considered a murder enquiry at all. Chief Inspector Wexford, however, had other ideas.

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» See also 9 mentions

English (17)  Spanish (1)  All languages (18)
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
Missing or Murdered?
Review of the Arrow Books/Cornerstone Digital Kindle eBook edition (2009) of the original John Long Ltd. hardcover (1967)

He had an inventive imagination but he could not visualise the concatenation of happenings that must have been the prerequisite to this letter.

I started a 2023 binge read / re-read of Ruth Rendell (aka Barbara Vine) and this is her 5th book and the 3rd of the Chief Inspector Wexford series. As in the previous books, Rendell does not follow a strict plot structure with the cliches of the genre. There is a long subplot where one of Wexford's constables is romancing an apparent witness. His behaviour is stalkerish to a degree and that in itself becomes suspicious, but all is revealed in the twist ending. The significance of the title is also not apparent until the conclusion.

The case begins when an eccentric local artist indirectly reports his sister to be missing. It is indirect because he shows up at the police station asking for where he can hire a charwoman (house cleaner) in the absence of his sister. The front desk sends him away as a nuisance. Soon afterwards though, Wexford receives an anonymous letter:

A girl called Ann was killed in this area between eight and eleven Tuesday night. The man who done it is small and dark and young and he has a black car. Name of Geoff Smith.

The missing sister is Anita (called Ann) Margolis and everything seems to be clear, except that the name of the apparent culprit is an alias. Wexford and his assistant Burden have a lot of unravelling to do before all can be explained.

See original cover at https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/3/3a/Wolftotheslaughter.jpg
Cover image for the original John Long Ltd. (UK) hardcover edition from 1967. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

This was yet another excellent and unconventional mystery from Ruth Rendell and I am excited to continue this binge read for 2023. I have to try and source some of the non-Wexfords as well as I have never previously read those.

Trivia and Links
Wolf to the Slaughter was adapted as the very first of the Ruth Rendell / Inspector Wexford Mysteries TV series (1987-2000) as Series 1, Episodes 1 to 4 in 1987 with actor George Baker as Inspector Wexford. You can watch the entire 4 episodes on YouTube here.

Read about Five Key Works by Ruth Rendell in The Guardian, May 2, 2015. ( )
  alanteder | Feb 13, 2023 |
This book was a mixed bag for me.

On the positive side, I liked the way that Wexford’s character is becoming more defined, and so is Burden’s. It’s almost like a father/son relationship in that Burden seems to want to define himself in contrast to Wexford, much as a teenage boy would.

Overall the plot was OK, but there is an element involving a newly introduced member of the police force that I found a bit implausible. And I was disappointed at the lack of women characters with any positive, or even neutral, qualities. Many of the men are unappealing, but I can think of at least one who did no harm!

Oh well, on to the next in our group read. Since I know that I've liked others in the series I'm still very much motivated to continue.

BTW, the narration was just adequate. I don't know if it's the fault of the reader or the editor/producer, but on more than one occasion there was no pause or other indication of a change in action from one character to another, meaning that I occasionally had to rewind to figure out what was happening.

All in all, so-so. Better than lots of crime novels but far from Rendell's best. ( )
  BarbKBooks | Aug 15, 2022 |
Now I've got it. This is the book when the narrative heft kicks in. Still, I think I need a break. If these had been in any way compelling, I'd keep reading, but it's like too much candy. I'm ready for some meat.

Wexford, as a Detective Chief Inspector, is a supervisor, and he is thus that much more uninteresting. That's OK, because the other characters seem to make up for the slack. That said, I read series novels for the recurring characters (at least in part), and the only consistently involved character is DI Burden. Burden isn't that great a character, in fact is a bit of a sycophant (or at least too eager to please his boss, Wexford, and jealous of those who catch W's eye). I can see the possibility of development. What these books have read like, so far, is more serious, less interesting novels of the kind Carl Hiaassen writes: novels that aren't part of a series, but have recurring characters in them.

To make it worse, this novel ended in the worse possible way for me, where the crime that is being investigated didn't actually happen, and the crime revealed at the end of the book was discovered nearly by accident. I always feel a bit cheated, and I did here, as well. Three stars, however, as the subplot involving the shopkeeper's daughter and the creepy detective sergeant was interesting.

So, I think my earlier thoughts about Wexford are holding fast. Rendell, in my limited experience, seems better at the stand-alone novel. I wasn't that impressed with the first Wexford novel I read (the last, or latest anyway), but it held up because it was a follow-up to the first Rendell novel I read. Oh well. I should be glad that not every series I start is a gem. I'd never do anything else with my (increasingly) precious reading hours.

So, onto something new. I think a bit of non-fiction. ( )
  allan.nail | Jul 11, 2021 |
(28) The 3rd Inspector Wexford mystery. I much prefer Rendell/Vine's stand-alones thus far. This one features a missing socialite who allegedly was last seen entering a house for rent by the hour from a small-town criminal known to Burden and Wexford. When the addled brother of the missing woman shows up at the police station asking for help, the crew is sucked in even without obvious evidence of a crime. Thanks to the opening chapter though, the reader knows more than the police. A new young deputy working for Wexford in particular, may know even more. He is small, dark, and handsome . . . meets the description of the man last seen with the socialite. Hmm?

I thought the writing was a bit plodding and the interludes with Drayton and his lady love didn't quite work for me. There was no sudden revelation leaving the reader guessing like in the first 2 novels - instead we all find out some things together though the last twist was indeed surprising for me. Surprising, but still not as entertaining, atmospheric, and satisfying as I like my mysteries to be. Rendell's writing in these Wexford novels is a bit choppy - changes of time, scene, perspective almost mid paragraph. For the most part they are an easy read and I will likely keep reading, but in the main, I am a bit disappointed based on my wholehearted love for some of her other novels. ( )
  jhowell | Jun 8, 2019 |
A carpet that may have had blood on it, an engraved lighter, a missing woman, an anonymous note. Can Inspector Wexford and his team discover the murder? and the killer? A mystery with many twists and turns before a surprising conclusion.
  ritaer | Dec 24, 2018 |
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» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ruth Rendellprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bezzenberger, IlseÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Damiani, MaddalenaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jacono, CarloCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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'Tis all a chequer-board of Nights and Days
Where Destiny with Men for pieces plays;
Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,
And one by one back in the Closet lays.

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
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They might have been going to kill someone.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Anita Margolis had vanished. There was no body, no crime - nothing more concrete than an anonymous letter and the intriguing name of Smith. According to headquarters, it wasn't to be considered a murder enquiry at all. Chief Inspector Wexford, however, had other ideas.

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