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The Babes in the Wood: A Chief Inspector Wexford Mystery    by Ruth Rendell order for
Babes in the Wood
by Ruth Rendell
Order:  USA  Can
Seal, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I like Chief Inspector Wexford and always have. Sylvia and Sheila are lucky to have him as a dad. He's a caring, deeply intuitive policeman with a love of literature and a fear of technology. He's overweight, very human, and someone to respect. And I appreciate the comfortable relationship that he has with his wife Dora, and the fact that he is not at all threatened by her intelligence and recent acquisition of computer skills; he simply asks for her help.

This episode opens on an outdoors cult ceremony, focused on driving out evil spirits. From this bizarre episode, we move on to watch Wexford and his wife cope with floods inching up their garden. Then the Inspector is informed of the disappearance of two teenagers, Sophie and Giles, (the 'babes in the wood' of this tale) and their sitter, Joanna Troy. The children's mother is hysterical (permanently) and their father cold and sarcastic.

A masterful police procedural plays out, with investigation of the background of the sitter, a former teacher, and country wide search for the children. In parallel with all this, Wexford's daughter Sylvia has a new man, who makes her dad uncomfortable - with good reason, it turns out. Wexford and Burden continue their complementary (occasionally irritated with each other) relationship, and the trail of the lost babes takes the Inspector to Sweden.

Ruth Rendell's characterizations are, as always, insightful, and her plotting brilliant, leaving me guessing (wrongly) to the end. It's hard to imagine any mystery fan who hasn't found this author yet, but if you're one of this rare breed, there are plenty of novels to enjoy - and if you're already a fan, The Babes in the Wood is vintage Wexford and an excellent read.

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