‘A Guilty Thing Surprised’ is the 5th Novel in Ruth Rendell’s Inspector Wexford series. It was first published in 1970, so as with many of the other early Ruth Rendell novels it has a certain old-world charm.
Quentin and Elizabeth Nightingale seem like the perfect couple. Rich, beautiful and waited on. Then Elizabeth is found in the forest brutally murdered. So, Reg Wexford and his assistant Mike Burden begin their investigation of her death and quickly discover that life for the Nightingales wasn’t as rosy as it appeared to be.
Elizabeth and Quentin lived fairly separate lives and there was a lot that they didn’t know about each other. There is quickly a list of suspects for Elizabeth’s murder, starting with the husband, but also including Elizabeth’s brother Denys Villiers (with whom she regularly fought) his wife Georgina (who Elizabeth condescended to), the gardener and aspiring pop star Sean Lovery, and the sexually over-active Dutch au-pair Katje who seems a bit too interested in Quentin and his money. But did any of them have enough of a motive to bash her head in with a blunt object.
The investigation mostly involves interviews with the suspects, the household and Wexford’s rich and idle friend – Marriott (who knows lots of the gossip of the wealthy). The differences between Wexford and Burden are highlighted with Burden being extremely conservative and Wexford regularly imagining being younger, richer and more carefree before being pulled back to the serious job of policing.
As with other books in the series, Wexford manages to solve the crime by a combination of a very obscure clue and a bit of night-time inspiration.
The end of the story is a bit shocking (pretty normal for Ruth Rendell) and would probably have been considered even more so when the book was first published.
The more Wexford books I read, the more I enjoy the man, and I’m looking forward to the next in the series – ‘No More Dying Then’.
Book Published 1970