Fans of Ruth Rendell’s Inspector Wexford novels will appreciate ROAD RAGE, the eighteenth entry in this series. The recurring characters have settled comfortably into their roles, and readers thus encounter a familiar set of police personnel matched with an intriguing case of kidnapping and hostage taking, made more vital by the fact that Wexford’s wife, Dora, is one of those kidnapped.
As the novel opens, protesters have gathered in opposition to the planned Kingsmarkham Bypass, which they say will destroy the habitat of a rare butterfly and otherwise disturb the environment. They begin spiking trees and disrupting work on the new road. One group, attempting to relocate a group of badgers, discovers the body of a young woman, soon identified as a German hitchhiker. The search for her killer soon takes back stage to a larger drama, but the cases remain loosely tied together.
Shortly after discovery of the body, five people are reported missing, including Chief Inspector Reg Wexford’s wife, Dora. The hostage takers identify themselves as Sacred Globe, an environmental group, but the police can find no record of a group with that name. Sacred Globe releases Dora, with the message that they will soon begin negotiations, and that suspension of construction of the bypass is not enough—they demand cancellation of the project.
Dora provides enough clues about her kidnappers to keep the investigation going. In the meantime, police gather information about and from environmentalist leaders who remain at the construction sites. The environmentalists are the most interesting characters in the book; Rendell seems to believe that the police characters require no further development after so many books. She uses shifting points of view, but the similarity of narration makes it difficult to keep track of which police officers are involved in a particular scene.
Rendell lays out an interesting trail of clues, some useful and some worthless. Readers will likely find it easy to guess the identity of the kidnappers from among the limited roster of suspects far before Wexford solves the case, but Rendell does a good job of building suspense early in the book, then developing the trail of evidence and deduction that leads the police to the kidnappers. This novel is not among Rendell’s best, but it provides entertaining reading.