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The Monster in the Box    by Ruth Rendell order for
Monster in the Box
by Ruth Rendell
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Doubleday Canada, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Chief Inspector Wexford of the Kingsmarkham Police Force tracked down cold case killers in Not in the Flesh, in which Ruth Rendell also explored police relations with ethnic communities. She continues to develop both themes as obsessions in The Monster in the Box - Wexford obsesses over the coldest case of all, while his politically overcorrect subordinate Hannah Goldsmith and Burden's teacher wife Jenny persist in believing that a Muslim student, Tamima Rahman, is being victimized by her family in some way.

Wexford's monster in the box (his daughter's solution for things weighing on the mind is 'to visualize a box ... and put your worry inside') is a much-married dog lover named Eric Targo. The Chief Inspector believes (without any real evidence, but trusting in his intuition) that Targo strangled a woman in his first murder case when he was new to the force. Since then, Targo (who seems to understand that Wexford suspects him) has periodically stalked his opponent, aiming stares and conspiratorial smiles at him.

Targo had disappeared from Wexford's life for over ten years, but now shows up in Kingsmarkham once more. Wexford, who has never told anyone about Targo (certain that he would not be believed) finally shares the history with Mike Burden over a series of meetings. True to form, Burden dismisses his friend's concerns as an excess of imagination. Eric Targo is definitely a stalker, but is he the serial killer that Wexford believes him to be?

As the situation develops - Reg Wexford continues to share Targo's history with Burden, and Jenny and Hannah follow up on the Rahmans - the Chief Inspector reflects on his early career and romantic interests before he settled on Dora as his perfect woman. As a longtime series fan I enjoyed this part very much. Gradually Wexford begins to suspect that Targo selects a victim that 'someone wants to be rid of'. Then someone is strangled who was part of Wexford's life.

I wondered where this police procedural was going and how the author could possibly bring together the two obsessions. She does it steadily and masterfully as always, and in a most unusual manner. Ruth Rendell - and her creation, Chief Inspector Wexford - only get better as time passes. The Monster in the Box, in which nothing is as it seems, is a must read for Anglophile mystery fans.

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