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Harm Done Summary

Harm Done is a novel by Ruth Rendell from 1999. The book is actually part of the Inspector Wexford series, and it’s number 18 in that line. When you write your paper on the novel, it will likely focus on Lizzie Cromwell, who turns up after being missing for a while in her town.

Lizzie doesn’t remember where she’s been, and Wexford deduces that she had been spending time with her boyfriend. The missing person’s case starts to look more complicated when a three-year-old disappears and there is a public outcry. When writing about or using this part of the book, it helps to focus on how the public gets so angry that they start threatening and even killing people they suspect of being pedophiles.

This puts pressure on Inspector Wexford to figure out the mysteries before events get totally out of hand in the community of the book, called Kingsmarkham. Many of the plots in the book center around women, children, and violence. The second young woman who goes missing after Lizzie has a similar story in that she shows up again having seemingly lost her memory. These connections among the women that Chief Inspector Wexford has to figure out will be a fruitful place to start for your assignment.


(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Ruth Rendell has long been known as a doyenne of the mystery genre, and this novel will not detract from her reputation. She has two varieties of mystery novel—stories of psychological obsession, and more traditional murder mysteries, which feature Inspector Wexford. Rendell also writes stories of twisted psyches under the name of Barbara Vine; the Vine novels are dominated by a strong sense of place. Harm Done is the nineteenth novel in this prolific mystery writer’s Inspector Wexford series.

Rendell has won many awards, including three Edgar Awards, four Gold Daggers, the Commander of the British Empire, and the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award. Moreover, she has been made a member of the House of Lords and is a working peer with the title Baroness Rendell. Her particular skill has always been the evocation of subtleties of deviance: how people develop into sociopaths, the psychology of the outsider. She is also very adept in her use of details to create a sense of place, whether it is a brooding Italian villa, as in a Barbara Vine novel, or the village of Kingsmarkham, where Reg Wexford is chief inspector.

Indeed, one of the pleasures of the Wexford novel is the impression it gives of the British village and its inhabitants—the out-of-work husbands, sullen and swaggering as they live off wives or the dole; the petty bullies; the gossipy shopkeepers; the unattractive women starved for romance. She is particularly good at representing parents—fathers who try to exert total control over the family and cowed, evasive mothers who lack the strength and ability to comfort their troubled children. There are few healthy relationships in a Rendell novel, either within social expectations (mother, father, and children in their two-up, two-down little home) or outside society’s norms.

This story begins with the abduction and return of Lizzie Cromwell, a teenager whose intellectual capacity is limited and who is also unwilling to explain exactly what happened. Other events occupy Inspector Wexford’s busy life: A pedophile who is also a child-killer has been released, and the neighborhood to which he will return does not want him. Meanwhile, Wexford is also trying to get closer to his daughter Sylvia, whose own marriage is faltering while she is working as a volunteer answering the telephone at a refuge for battered women called “The Hide.” Sylvia’s militant feminism has always grated on his nerves.

In Harm Done , the focus on unhealthy marital relationships and their effects on children is unique. Sylvia shakes some of Wexford’s preconceptions about spouse abuse, and the reader’s as well. The characters from “The Hide” show the gamut of reactions to battering, and it becomes clear that the problem has many levels, many...

(The entire section is 1,996 words.)