Details, details, always details. pp. 90-91.
Andy drops Meg off in town on his way to Philadelphia, and then she has to walk home. She has bought some books, and by the time she reaches the house, she is exhausted.
The next day or a few days later, while Andy is still gone, she goes into town for embroidery supplies and picks up some groceries as well. ("When she came out of the store, her arms were full.") No mention of how she got to town or how she's going to get home, other than walking. No mention of whether Andy is back or not. And of course she has an encounter with Culver.
I don't want Meg to be too TSTL. . . . but I'm not comfortable with her failing to consider these details.
I read a little more before I went to bed last night.
Now I almost can't NOT read. Ugh, and I have so much work to do today. . . .
Observation -- I'm reading this with plain enjoyment but also with an eye to how Michaels fashions her characters. Meg is likeable in her straitened circumstances. Sylvia is far less likeable in her abundance. Andy is likeable, and he is flawed, and his flaws are justified. Michaels is honest with her creations.
More later. I have reading to do.
As dark as the subject matter was, I enjoyed reading this book immensely. The plot was complex, the main characters fully developed, the writing excellent. What's not to like?
Disclosure: I obtained a used copy of this book from my local Friends of the Library book sale. I do not know the author nor have I ever communicated with her about this book or any other matter. I am an author.
Though The Babes in the Wood is the ninth installment in the Chief Inspector Wexford series, it easily stands alone without the previous books. I had no trouble grasping the basic background for any of the ongoing personal stories woven through the book.
The case involves three missing persons who are initially presumed dead: 32-year-old Joanna Troy and the two teenagers she was "babysitting" for a weekend while their parents were in Paris, 15-year-old Giles Dade and his 13-year-old sister Sophie. Also missing is Joanna Troy's blue VW Golf. The three people disappear on a weekend of torrential rain and flooding in late November. No trace of them is found until Christmas Day, when the first body is discovered.
I had figured out a major part of the mystery almost from the beginning.
Giles and Sophie were missing but not dead; Giles had driven the VW to dispose of Joanna Troy's body. Much was made of the fact that he turned 16 a few days after the disappearance, and that's an age when driving becomes a rite of passage.
That Joanna Troy is dead is evidenced by the lost tooth crown. Had she been alive, she would have had to get it fixed; if she had been conscious when she left the house, she would have taken it with her.
The how and the why and the identity of the killer remained the mystery, and that was sufficiently intriguing to keep me reading into the small hours of the night.
I save my five-star ratings for those books I think are truly exceptional, and while The Babes in the Wood was very good, it had a couple of elements that almost took it down to a 3.5-star rating.
The first was that there were almost no likeable characters other than Wexford himself, his family members, and some of his fellow detectives. Roger and Katrina Dade, parents of the missing children, were revolting. Even when Roger was cleared of a particularly nasty suspicion, he remained revolting, with no redeeming qualities. Katrina was similarly unsympathetic. Katrina's mother, Mrs. Bruce, was almost normal, but too minor a character to make up for all the others. Joanna Troy's father and stepmother weren't terrible people, but neither were they sympathetic. The Buxtons, the Wrights, Rick Mitchell, none of them had any redeeming qualities that made me hope they weren't the killer; any of them would do.
The second was that Rendell withholds certain information from the reader until the very end. If I remember correctly from my high school days of reading Ellery Queen mysteries, all the clues were subtly given throughout the story, so the diligent reader could piece everything together. It's not until the last few pages that Wexford reveals to his partner Mike Burden what he has learned after the case has been solved, details the reader has no way of even guessing from the text.
The third was the uneasiness I felt throughout the reading that a subtle but pervasive misogyny underlay the treatment of the female characters. Almost all of them are weak, venal, deceptive, manipulative, even predatory. Wexford's wife, Dora, is the only one with any substance, and even she seems slightly oblivious to what's going on with their daughter Sylvia. To be honest, most of the male characters are just as bad, but at least some of them are given small traits or moments of humanity that are almost completely denied the female characters.
Sylvia and the other women who suffer abuse are subtly blamed for what happens to them. Joanna Troy is painted as a monster who deserved her fate. Sharonne is the grasping, greedy beauty without a soul. Peter Buxton, for all his weaknesses, does eventually do the right thing about his discovery. Rick Mitchell likewise insists that a crime must be reported to the authorities. Even Giles knows that what Joanna is doing is wrong and she must be stopped but not to the point of murder; Sophie, though she is much younger, has no such scruples, and perhaps that's because she's female?
There is one moment when Detective Karen Malahyde attempts to challenge the overt misogyny of a male character being interviewed in connection with the case, but Wexford silences her. The issue isn't brought up again to be resolved and it left me feeling uncomfortable.
Likewise, Sylvia's situation -- the contradiction of her being a social worker dealing with abused women and being abused herself -- seemed to get short shrift.
But these may be issues that are only tangential to a single book in the series and get better treatment in the series as a whole.
Overall, however, the book was a satisfying read and I would be willing to read more should bargains come my way!