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Harm Done    by Ruth Rendell order for
Harm Done
by Ruth Rendell
Order:  USA  Can
Seal, 2000 (1999)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Like an old wine, Inspector Wexford only improves as he ages and he is at his best to date in Harm Done. For such a traditional policeman, he has a remarkable intuitive ability. He solves crimes by meeting those involved, gathering information and then setting his creative processes to work. Eventually the pieces of the puzzle meld together and he sees the solution. As usual Inspector Burden provides a foil and a sounding board. He respects his boss but distrusts his methods.

Rendell has outdone herself this time with several complex intertwined plots and relationships in her usual Sussex setting. There are the teenage girls who disappear and show up again after being abducted and made to do housework. There are the mob responses to an old pedophile's release into society to his daughter's council flat in Kingsmarkham. There is the disappearance of another small child, and there are battered women - those who have found refuge in a local shelter (The Hide), and those who have not.

Wexford is a tough but tolerant policeman, who has seen it all but is still capable of being surprised by human nature. The reader watches events through his eyes and shares his reactions, in particular his helplessness and horror at the abuse suffered by some women and their inability to detach themselves from it. He shares these concerns with his daughter Sylvia, who volunteers at the Hide. Sylvia is more real in this episode than she has been in the past. Though still brusque and opinionated, she softens towards her father and their relationship improves.

Harm Done is a gripping psychological thriller told with the author's consummate skill and unsentimental characterization. I found it Rendell's best yet.

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