A New Lease of Death (also published as Sins of the Father) by Ruth Rendell is the first book I’ve read, well listened to actually, in her Detective Wexford series. I’m not sure that it was the best choice of a first read in the series simply because Wexford seemed more of a secondary character; I have to assume that’s not usually the case. He seemed like an interesting man, gruff, but I didn’t really get much of a feel for him or his sidekick, Burden.

The main character was a vicar, Henry Archery, whose son wants to marry a lovely young woman. The problem lies in the fact that she is the daughter of Painter, a man who was convicted of killing an elderly woman and hung for the crime. The story was originally published in 1967 when the class difference between the two young people was an issue, but not as much as the potential of the tendency for violence to be hereditary. An Archery simply shouldn’t marry a murderer’s daughter, period. But the young woman is convinced that her father was innocent, so Archery approaches Detective Wexford who solved the crime originally. Wexford is convinced that the right man was hung, but grudgingly allows Archery to look in to the case and talk to the those involved who are still living.

Overall, I thought it was a good story. Archery was a fully drawn character and I could understand his concerns. During his investigation he made a few rather poor personal choices, but I liked how he felt convicted about his feelings, how his emotional and rational sides tugged against each other. The other characters, even Wexford, were not as well-fleshed out, and I guess that’s my main problem. For it being a Wexford mystery, I would have expected for Wexford to have a bigger role.

The mystery itself was interesting, not so much a “who dunnit” but more of “are you sure of who dunnit.” Archery and his son want to prove that Painter was not guilty. As they unravel the past they see how all the actors were affected by the event, including the little girl who found the body, but the evidence against Painter still seems to be overwhelming. Archery is an introspective man and in some ways it’s a slow-moving plot, full of digressions and dead ends, but the focus is more on the people, their thoughts, feelings, than on action. I should have seen the twist at the end coming, but I didn’t. It wasn’t the most astounding reveal, however. I don’t want to say it was a let down, because it had the same feel as the rest of the book, but it wasn’t the grand denouement that so often comes along at the end of detective novels.

I’ll definitely be continuing in this series, probably skipping around based on what my library has.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Category: Mystery

Amazon

Chief Inspector Wexford #2
First published 1967
6 hours 52 minutes
Read by Nigel Anthony

Book source: Library

Chief Inspector Wexford Series

  1. From Doon with Death        
  2. A New Lease of Death (APA: Sins of the Fathers)
  3. Wolf to the Slaughter
  4. The Best Man To Die
  5. A Guilty Thing Surprised
  6. No More Dying Then
  7. Murder Being Once Done
  8. Some Lie and Some Die
  9. Shake Hands Forever
  10. A Sleeping Life
  11. Means of Evil and Other Stories
  12. Put on by Cunning  (APA: Death Notes)
  13. The Speaker of Mandarin 
  14. An Unkindness of Ravens
  15. The Veiled One
  16. Kissing the Gunner’s Daughter
  17. Simisola
  18. Road Rage
  19. Harm Done
  20. The Babes in the Wood
  21. End in Tears
  22. Not in the Flesh
  23. The Monster in the Box
  24. The Vault