1973 and a pop festival has come to Kingsmarkham. While DS Burden sees it as an opportunity for the further degeneration of society as a whole, DI Wexford has a slightly more positive view on matters. Everyone – apart from some of the people who live near the festival – seems to be enjoying themselves. Except for the two festivalgoers who slip off to the nearby quarry for a romantic tryst (must be a nice quarry) only to find the body of Dawn Stonor, a once-local girl, who has had her face smashed in with a bottle.
Some people had seen Dawn on the day that she died – but where did she get the red dress that adorned her corpse? What is her connection to the star of the festival? And why did this book seem to take an age to read when it’s less than 200 pages long?
It’s been a while since a book has irked me this much. Oh, there are occasional review copies that don’t jibe with me but, as per my review policy, I don’t review those (or even finish them). But I paid for this – admittedly, only £1 from one of the local charity shops – so by the rules, the gloves are off.
First of all though, as you might expect from Ruth Rendell, the writing style is strong. Her prose is an easy but evocative read and she has, with the plot, tried something original. I’m not sure I’ve read a similar motive/explanation for a murder elsewhere. Also, there was one aspect that explained the unreliability of a witness that impressed me with its realness, for want of a better word, and again, was something that I don’t recall seeing before.
But original is not always better. The central idea behind the crime entails behaviour that is beyond unbelievable. In fact at least three, if not four, characters’ behaviour in the book is so unnatural that it makes the denouement so bizarre that it completely undermines what has gone before. How Wexford deduces what has happened is almost necessarily psychic, as while the clues may be there, the logical behaviour isn’t.
And large parts of the book, while well-written, are pretty dull too.
So, a shame, and while I’ll be returning to Wexford again, this was a huge disappointed. Not recommended – although the TV version might be worth a look to see Peter Capaldi playing the central role of the pop star.