The Veiled One

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Significantly, THE VEILED ONE begins with Inspector Wexford’s driving out of a shopping-center car park where a body is lying unobserved. One does not expect to find a body in a car park; one does not expect a murder in suburbia, which is noted for monotony ordinarily not deadly. The very fact that this murder occurred while people were buying food and toiletries or hurrying home to cook dinner intensifies the horror of the story.

As he investigates the murder, Wexford finds that this quiet English suburb is home to a crude and violent farmer, who is convinced that his wife ran off with another man; a woman who alternately knits and writes down her concentration-camp experiences; and another woman, the discoverer of the body, who has driven her son to the edge of a nervous breakdown. The murder victim has been blackmailing people in order to make enough money for her husband’s hip operation; her niece, who helped in the scheme, is lingering around the widower with her own plans. Even the good characters find themselves involved in evil. Sheila Wexford, the Inspector’s daughter, is unintentionally responsible for her father’s being injured by a bomb placed in her car, and Wexford’s assistant Mike Burden is at least partially responsible for pressuring a suspect into committing a murder.

In its focus on psychological examination of character, in its use of realistic contemporary detail, and in its insistence on the omnipresence of evil concealed by deceit or self-deception, THE VEILED ONE is typical of Ruth Rendell’s mystery novels. Only the existence of characters such as Wexford and Burden, who at least try to do the right thing, mitigates the horror of her view of modern life.