‘The Speaker of Mandarin’ is Ruth Rendell’s 12th Wexford novel and one that unfortunately feels quite dated. Much of the story is set in China and the way that the Chinese people are portrayed as well as the attitude of the British tourists towards the Chinese people feels so out of date that the novel seemed to be written much earlier than 1983.
Wexford attends a meeting in China with his nephew Howard and takes a tour on his own rather than returning directly home. Most of the book deals with Wexford’s travels in China (much less common then than now) – the sights he sees, the group of British tourists whose itinerary coincides with his for a while, and the old Chinese lady who keeps appearing in the strangest places (or is Wexford hallucinating). As Wexford is a keen observer of human nature, we find out a lot about his impressions of the people he meets.
Some time after his return to Kingsmarkham he is called to investigate a murder and the victim, coincidentally, is one of the British tourists who he met in China.
Immediately Wexford suspects that the murder somehow relates to the recent trip to China, and having observed the tourists while he was acting as a civilian, he has more information than usual about the victim and the suspects. As he starts to question the members of the tour group, he unearths many secrets, not all of them related to the murder.
This novel was quaint and old-fashioned. It built a bit on the characters of Reg Wexford and Mike Burden, but not enough to be considered an essential part of the series. Although interesting, this book may best be relegated to the out-of-date stack.
I’m hoping that the next in the series – ‘An Unkindness of Ravens’ is a better story.
Book Published 1983