[This post is not a review, but a comment on Rendell´s engagement in a social issue]
In this novel, unemployment and the social deroute which may follow it form an interesting backdrop, or social commentary, if you like. Besides, the narrator sets out to expose the lifestyle of the privileged few of Kingsmarkham right from the first page:
“There were four people besides himself in the waiting room and none of them looked ill. The olive-skinned blonde in the designer tracksuit bloomed with health, her body all muscles her hands all golden tendons, apart from the geranium nails and the nicotine stains on the right forefinger. She had changed her seat when a child of two arrived with its mother and homed on the chair next to hers.”
“To Wexford´s surprise the smoker [the olive-skinned blonde] turned to him and said, without preamble, ´I called the doctor, but he refused to come. Isn´t that amazing? I was forced to come here myself.´”
Simisola is a crime novel, a brilliant one of its kind, but the themes of unemployment and immigration, illegal as well as legal, are just as important. In Chief Inspector Wexford´s youth, coloured people were a rare sight in Kingsmarkham, and when the story begins, they are still a very small minority indeed. One of the newcomers is Wexford´s own GP, Dr Raymond Akande. Wexford likes his new doctor, and perhaps he secretly congratulates himself that he is so open and forthcoming, and though he explains to Mike Burden that ´we are all prejudiced´, he certainly feels less prejudiced than most of his colleagues. (I know that occasionally some modern readers have been annoyed by Wexford´s old-fashioned attitudes, but this novel made me suspect that though the writer likes him, she is also able to look through him and expose some of his flaws for what they are).
Dr Akande´s daughter, Melanie, disappears, and during the long search for her, the attitudes and prejudices of Kingsmarkham´s police force are tested. And of course we also meet some of the less fortunate immigrants; young women who work as illegal nannies and cleaners for the very rich, and before the story ends, we realize that some of them live under conditions which are not far from those of their slave ancestors. So though I enjoyed all the Wexford stories before Simisola, this one is the first that made such a strong impression on me that I have never forgotten the victim (and have to reread it every few years – always getting a lump in my throat).
No more revelations as they may spoil the plot for you if you have not read this five-star crime novel yet, but it has probably left many readers wondering that affluent people need to employ cheap, illegal immigrants at all. But then they would never have become so rich if they threw away their money, would they?
Next week: Ruth Rendell, Road Rage (1997)