Monday, March 2, 2009

Chief Inspector Wexford comes to life

One of my favorite mystery writers is the amazing Ruth Rendell. Even though she continues to put out about a book a year, the quality of her work has remained high. For the most part, I am generally shocked and surprised by the endings of her books. The bad guys generally get what they deserve, although there's plenty of suffering among the good guys up until that point.

I was thrilled to discover that many of Ruth Rendell's stories have been filmed and were shown as the Ruth Rendell Mysteries between 1987 and 2000. It appears that not all of the episodes have been released in the U.S. yet. I recently saw two episodes, "Going Wrong" and "Harm Done."

In "Harm Done," we are treated to a vintage Rendell story, with several seemingly unrelated threads woven into an unexpected conclusion. In this story, Chief Inspector Wexford must deal with teen aged girls abducted by a middle aged woman and then released, a three year old girl missing from her upper-class home, a pedophile released from prison into a lower-class housing estate, and domestic violence counselors and victims. Inexplicably, Wexford behaves irrationally and is overbearing and harsh with his subordinates at work as well as his family. This is never really explained, but perhaps if the shows involving Wexford were viewed in order, this progression to short-tempered grumpy old man might make sense.


"Going Wrong" on the other hand, doesn't involve Rendell's long-suffering Wexford. This story deals with a bored rich girl, Leonora, who becomes involved as a teenager with bad boy Guy. Leonora finally tires of Guy's illegal activities and decides that going off to university will be a good time to break off the relationship. Five years later, Guy reconnects with Leonora and wants to rekindle their romance. By now, he is the owner of a legitimate and successful business. Both Leonora and Guy are involved in new relationships, but they continue to meet on a weekly basis. It soon transpires that Guy is obsessed with Leonora. Although Leonora is engaged to the bland William, she continues to see Guy. It is a bit hard to believe that Guy would continue to pine for the somewhat plain Leonora, when he is involved with the gorgeous and patient Celeste, played by Inday Ba.

Eventually, Guy decides to give up his obsession and devote himself to Celeste, but of course, by then it's too late. Some events he put into motion in the grip of his obsession come back to haunt him. Although the ending was a typical Rendell twist, the entire story was way too long. It was three separate episodes, each an hour long. The sections dwelling on Guy's obsession with Leonora were really drawn out and could have been cut down.

As I usually do, after watching the episodes, I looked on IMDB to see if I might have seen any of the actors in other programs. I was especially interested in finding out about the actress Inday Ba, since that is an unusual name. I was very surprised and saddened to learn that she had died in 2005 at the age of 32 from complications of lupus. She was born in Sweden, the daughter of a Swedish mother and a Senegalese father. She moved to London to pursue her acting career, but just as it was taking off, she was diagnosed with lupus, while her mother contracted leukemia. The symptoms of lupus can be exacerbated by stress, and having a parent undergoing treatment for cancer is surely extremely stressful. Inday and her mother worked on a documentary about her illness called "The Wolf Inside." She certainly was a beautiful and talented actress, and it's a tragedy that modern medicine wasn't able to save her. Unfortunately, the only thing I knew about lupus was that it was also responsible for the death of author Flannery O'Connor at the age of 39.

Final Verdict for Harm Done: Three Gherkins for being an interesting multi-layered tale with a satisfying ending
Final Verdict for Going Wrong: Two Gherkins for Going Wrong too long!

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