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  • Harm Done
  • Written by Ruth Rendell
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  • Written by Ruth Rendell
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Harm Done

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An Inspector Wexford Mystery

Written by Ruth RendellAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Ruth Rendell



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List Price: $11.99

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On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 368 | ISBN: 978-0-307-42618-5
Published by : Vintage Knopf

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Read by Christopher Ravenscroft
On Sale: July 05, 2000
ISBN: 978-0-375-41706-1
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

The search for the body commenced. Then the victim walked into town.

Behind the picture-postcard façade of Kingsmarkham lies a community rife with violence, betrayal, and a taste for vengeance. When sixteen-year-old Lizzie Cromwell reappears no one knows where she has been, including Lizzie herself. Inspector Wexford thinks she was with a boyfriend. But the disappearance of a three-year-old girl casts a more ominous light on events. And when the public's outrage turns toward a recently released pederast and another suspect turns up stabbed to death, Wexford must try to unravel the mystery before any more bodies appear, and before a mob of local vigilantes metes out a rough justice to their least favorite suspect. In Harm Done, the violence is near at hand, and evil lies just a few doors down the block.        

Excerpt

From Chapter 1

On the day Lizzie came back from the dead the police and her family and neighbors had already begun the search for her body. They worked on the open countryside between Kingsmarkham and Myringham, combing the hillsides and beating through the woods. It was April but cold and wet, and a sharp northeast wind was blowing. Their task was not a pleasant one; no one laughed or joked and there was little talking.
Lizzie's stepfather was among the searchers, but her mother was too upset to leave the house. The evening before, the two of them had appeared on television to appeal for Lizzie to come home, for her abductor or attacker, whatever he might be, to release her. Her mother said she was only sixteen, which was already known, and that she had learning difficulties, which was not. Her stepfather was a lot younger than her mother, perhaps ten years, and looked very young. He had long hair and a beard and wore several earrings, all in the same ear. After the television appearance several people phoned Kingsmarkham Police Station and opined that Colin Crowne had murdered his stepdaughter. One said Colin had buried her on the building site down York Street, a quarter of a mile down the road from where the Crownes and Lizzie lived on the Muriel Campden Estate. Another told Detective Sergeant Vine that she had heard Colin Crowne threaten to kill Lizzie "because she was as thick as two planks."

"Those folks as go on telly to talk about their missing kids," said a caller who refused to give her name, "they're always the guilty ones. It's always the dad. I've seen it time and time again. If you don't know that, you've no business being in the police."

Chief Inspector Wexford thought she was dead. Not because of what the anonymous caller said, but because all the evidence pointed that way. Lizzie had no boyfriend, she was not at all precocious, she had a low IQ and was rather slow and timid. Three evenings before, she had gone with some friends on the bus to the cinema in Myringham, but at the end of the film the other two girls had left her to come home alone. They had asked her to come clubbing with them but Lizzie had said her mother would be worried--the friends thought Lizzie herself was worried at the idea--and they left her at the bus stop. It was just before eight-thirty and getting dark. She should have been home in Kingsmarkham by nine-fifteen, but she didn't come home at all. At midnight her mother had phoned the police.

If she had been, well, a different sort of girl, Wexford wouldn't have paid so much attention. If she had been more like her friends. He hesitated about the phrase he used even in his own mind, for he liked to keep to his personal brand of political correctness in his thoughts as well as his speech. Not to be absurd about it, not to use ridiculous expressions like intellectually challenged, but not to be insensitive either and call a girl such as Lizzie Cromwell mentally handicapped or retarded. Besides, she wasn't either of those things, she could read and write, more or less, she had a certain measure of independence and went about on her own. In daylight, at any rate. But she wasn't fit just the same to be left alone after dark on a lonely road. Come to that, what girl was?

So he thought she was dead. Murdered by someone. What he had seen of Colin Crowne he hadn't much liked, but he had no reason to suspect him of killing his stepdaughter. True, some years before he married Debbie Cromwell, Crowne had been convicted of assault on a man outside a pub, and he had another conviction for taking and driving away--in other words, stealing--a car. But what did all that amount to? Not much. It was more likely that someone had stopped and offered Lizzie a lift.

"Would she accept a lift from a stranger?" Vine had asked Debbie Crowne.

"Sometimes it's hard to make her like understand things," Lizzie's mother had said. "She'll sort of say yes and no and smile--she smiles a lot, she's a happy kid--but you don't know if it's like sunk in. Do you, Col?"

"I've told her never talk to strangers," said Colin Crowne. "I've told her till I'm blue in the face, but what do I get? A smile and a nod and another smile, then she'll just say something else, something loony, like the sun's shining or what's for tea."

"Not loony, Col," said the mother, obviously hurt.

"You know what I mean."

So when she had been gone three nights and it was the morning of the third day, Colin Crowne and the neighbors on either side of the Crownes on the Muriel Campden Estate started searching for Lizzie. Wexford had already talked to her friends and the driver of the bus she should have been on but hadn't been on, and Inspector Burden and Sergeant Vine had talked to dozens of motorists who used that road daily around about that time. When the rain became torrential, which happened at about four in the afternoon, they called off the search for that day, but they were set to begin again at first light. Taking DC Lynn Fancourt with him, Wexford went over to Puck Road for another talk with Colin and Debbie Crowne.

When it was built in the sixties, on an open space that would now be called a "green field area," between the top of York Street and the western side of Glebe Road, the three streets and block of flats on a green in the midst of them, it had been called the York Estate. The then chairman of the housing committee, who had done A Midsummer Night's Dream for his school certificate and was proud of the knowledge thus gained, named the streets after characters in that comedy, Oberon, Titania, and Puck.
Ruth Rendell|Author Desktop

About Ruth Rendell

Ruth Rendell - Harm Done

Photo © Jerry Bauer

Ruth Rendell is the author of Road Rage, The Keys to the Street, Bloodlines, Simisola, and The Crocodile Bird. She is the winner of the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award. She is also the recipient of three Edgars from the Mystery Writers of America and four Gold Daggers from Great Britain’s Crime Writers Association. In 1997, she was named a life peer in the House of Lords. Ruth Rendell also writes mysteries under the name of Barbara Vine, of which A Dark Adapted Eye is the most famous. She lives in England.

Author Q&A

Val McDermid on INSPECTOR WEXFORD

Back in the 1970s, I was a trainee hack down in Devon and an avid consumer of crime fiction. I can still remember the jolt of reading Detective Inspector Reg Wexford’s beginnings in From Doon With Death (published in 1964) and being bowled over. It’s one of a handful of crime novels that shaped my own ambitions in the field. The classic Rendell hallmarks were all there right from the beginning—the sense of place, the delicate filleting of the characters’ psyches, the avoidance of the prosaic both in character and in motivation.

Since that first novel, Ruth Rendell has also demonstrated a keen fascination with the collision between society and the individual, particularly where circumstances drive the individual to behaviour that society regards as somehow abnormal. Stable structures have only limited interest; what is gripping is where things start to fall apart, and that is the area where Ruth Rendell excels. Never content with mere description, she illuminates the human condition in a style that is invariably clear and compelling.

Although she started with that most classic of English forms, the police procedural, she transformed it both with her psychological insights and her concern with society. She never descends to polemic, yet the picture she has painted of British society since the mid-Sixties is often far from neutral. It is clear that many things she sees make Ruth Rendell angry or despair, but her responses are always tempered through the filter of her characters; she always shows, never tells. So with Road Rage [a Wexford mystery], the complex issues around the environmental impact of development are explored and confronted, sometimes with a very human ambivalence. I think I know what Ruth Rendell herself believes, but only by my own interpretation of her characters. And I could well be wrong; she has the skill to confound us all.

Her commitment to politics and the creation of a better and more equal society was recognised with her elevation to the House of Lords where she sits as a working peer with the title Baroness Rendell of Babergh. It’s the latest honour in a crown that includes a clutch of daggers (four gold, one silver and the diamond) and the Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster Award.

Few writers can maintain interest in series characters as Ruth Rendell has done with the Wexford novels. Although by her own admission they are no longer her favourite element of her work, the sequence of seventeen novels demonstrates her fascination with psychology and allows her to show over a period of time the effects of events and the attrition of age on her central group of characters. Even this far into a series, she still manages to provide us with fresh insights into Reg Wexford’s personality as he struggles to balance his responsibility for a major investigation with a personal drama that threatens the very foundation of his life.

Perhaps one of the key reasons for the sustained quality of the Wexford novels is Ruth Rendell’s habit of variety. From the very beginning of her career, she made it plain that she would not be pigeonholed into writing one kind of novel only. Rather than follow her first Wexford directly with a second, To Fear A Painted Devil is a non-series novel with its roots in the classic English mystery. However, it blooms into something very different under Rendell’s care, giving us the first real hint of her skills as an anatomist of the human psyche.

As if it wasn’t enough to write a successful series regularly interspersed with non-series novels, in 1986, Ruth Rendell reinvented herself as Barbara Vine, with A Dark-Adapted Eye launching her in a new direction. These novels of psychological suspense have the recurring theme of the long shadows cast by the past. In the Vine novels, the sense of place is even stronger than in the Rendell’s, sometimes assuming as much importance as the characters themselves.

This variety of outlets for her talent means Ruth Rendell reduces the likelihood of becoming bored with her Kingsmarkham characters, bringing fresh interest to each Wexford chronicle. It also means she is never frustrated by the very real constraints that series writing imposes. When her imagination presents her with a story that clearly can’t be forced into the Wexford mould, she already has the means at hand to maximise its potential in another form.

This has allowed her to grow and develop as a writer in order to meet the fresh challenges she sets herself. Patricia Highsmith is often cited as the mother of the psychological suspense novel. But for my money, Ruth Rendell’s influence has been far greater. Highsmith’s novels are quintessentially European, whereas Ruth Rendell has created a sub-genre that speaks more resonantly to Brits and Americans. As usual, she has paved the way for a bandwagonload of followers.

Ruth Rendell is, I believe, unique among British crime writers. No-one can equal her range or her accomplishment; no-one has earned more respect from her fellow practitioners. The broad church that is current British crime writing owes much to a writer who has over her thirty-four year career consistently demonstrated that the genre can continually reinvent itself, moving in new directions, assuming new concerns and exploring new ways of telling stories. As if that wasn’t enough, stories of her kindness towards and support of other writers are legion.

As writers, we’re lucky to have her to inspire us. As readers, we’re even luckier to have her books.

–Val McDermid, author of A Place of Execution

Praise

Praise

"Rendell's clear, shapely prose casts the mesmerizing spell of the confessional." --The New Yorker

"It's no use trying to read Ruth Rendell's mind. You can follow her logic, analyze her insights and puzzle out her plots. But she'll always astonish you, as she does in Harm Done, with the emotional depth of her psychological mysteries." --The New York Times Book Review

"True to form, Rendell invites readers to experience a real touch of evil in Harm Done. . . . The plotting is as intricate, the creepiness quotient as high, as ever." --The Washington Post Book World

"Most satisfying. With her characterisitc elegance, Rendell has written another winner."--The Kansas City Star

  • Harm Done by Ruth Rendell
  • October 10, 2000
  • Fiction - Mystery & Detective
  • Vintage
  • $15.00
  • 9780375724848

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