Friday 5 March 2010

Harm Done

There was a time when I devoured each new Ruth Rendell book as it appeared, but she became so prolific that, in the end, I faltered, and I managed to miss a couple of Wexfords, including Harm Done. I’ve now belatedly watched the television version, and I was very impressed. It gives the impression of being reasonably faithful to the original, not least by virtue of its sheer complexity.

Rendell manages to tackle three difficult subjects – domestic violence, vigilante mob violence, and child abduction – and to combine a deep understanding of character with a clever plot, full of unexpected turns. In some of her recent books, I have felt her attempts at social and political commentary have detracted from the impact of the story, but that was not the case here, where the various elements of ‘message’ and ‘mystery’ were skilfully blended.

At first, it seems as though the main story will involve the abduction of two teenage girls from a bus stop. The girls tell a tale, once they come back home, that reminded me slightly of the Elizabeth Canning affair – but Rendell gives it a modern and chilling, yet ultimately melancholy, twist.

In fact, the central characters are a wealthy and seemingly devoted couple who have three young children. The husband, a successful businessman, has recently been receiving hate mail. When their daughter goes missing, it seems as though a paedophile is at work, and local vigilantes vent their fury on a woman whose elderly husband, just released from prison after serving a sentence for killing a child, has come to live with her because he has nowhere else to do. The unreasoning rage of the mob is very well captured, and the story-line has lashings of irony.

It turns out that the explanation for the little girl’s disappearance is nothing to do with paedophiles, but it rings frighteningly true. Clare Holman, an under-rated actor who was excellent in both Fallen Angel and Lewis, is very good as the unhappy wife. And George Baker and Christopher Ravenscroft excel as Wexford and Burden. I enjoyed and admired this episode. I switched on expecting a bit of comfort viewing – in fact, it was an uncomfortable story, but a memorable one.


Anonymous said...

Martin - I'm glad that this episode of the Wexford series didn't disappoint. You raise an important point, too, about the balance between commentary and plot/characters. That's a very difficult and delicate balance, and I'm always impressed when authors achieve it.

Dorte H said...

Oh, I wish I could see it. I had one or two episodes with George Baker on video years ago, but they have disappeared into one of the black holes of the universe.

Harm Done, isn´t that the story where Wexford´s elder daughter plays a rather significant role (a positive one for once)?

Ann Elle Altman said...

I haven't read a CI Wexford novel or seen the program before... I need to though. THanks.


Hannah Stoneham said...

I love Ruth Rendell - I think that she is fantastic - only I have alwas read them in a very jumbled up order and I have not tried this one yet so thank you muchly for the recommendation


Martin Edwards said...

Dorte, yes, that's the one.
Ann, as Margot and Hannah indicate, you'll enjoy Rendell's Wexfords, I think.

Deb said...

What a coincidence--we picked up a Ruth Rendell DVD set at the library this week. We watched "The Lake of Darkness" and "You Can't Be Too Careful," both of which had the feel of adapted short stories (and with more of a Barbara Vine than a Ruth Rendell touch). The only Wexford on the DVD is "Harm Done." I had read the book a few years ago, but my husband hadn't, so he watched the show one night in the week when I had to go to a meeting. Based on what you've written about it, perhaps I should watch "Harm Done" before we return the DVD to the library.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Deb. You Can't Be Too Careful is a short story, but The Lake of Darkness is a novel. It was actually the first Rendell I ever read, and I though it was brilliant. A book I can definitely recommend.