Gunner’s Daughter checks in at nearly 400 pages — almost twice the length of past Inspector Wexfords. The new puzzle, on the other hand, ranks as one of Ruth Rendell’s thinnest. At the isolated mansion of Davina Flory, celebrity anthropologist and 78-year-old bohemian, a bloody massacre occurs one night during dinner: Flory herself, her 60ish second husband, and her middle-aged daughter are all shot to death by a jewel thief. The sole survivor? Flory’s lovely 17-year-old granddaughter, Daisy. Suspecting that the gunman had an insider accomplice, Wexford zeroes in on an assortment of resentful servants — especially after one of them becomes the fourth murder victim.
Rendell whips up considerable interest from Wexford’s fatherly infatuation with gallant orphan Daisy — which parallels, not by coincidence, his estrangement from actress-daughter Sheila. Cunningly detailed character sketches, along with astute observations of British class conflict, provide the kind of edgy stimulation Rendell fans have come to expect. But no amount of texture can disguise the fact that Wexford’s investigation goes around in sluggish circles. Or that the Big Finish manages to be both utterly predictable and annoyingly farfetched. B-