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Authors: Ruth Rendell

Road Rage

BOOK: Road Rage
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HIGH PRAISE FOR
RUTH RENDELL AND
R
OAD
R
AGE

“Rendell writes with such elegance and restraint, with such a literate voice and an insightful mind, she transcends the mystery genre and achieves something almost sublime.”


Los Angeles Times

“ABSORBING AND TIMELY … An adroit plotter, Rendell also is an insightful social commentator who poses provocative moral questions within the context of an entertaining story.”


Orlando Sentinel

“RENDELL GIVES LUMINOUS INSIGHTS INTO THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE IN-BETWEEN OF HUMAN NATURE.”


St. Petersburg Times

“HAUNTING.”


Boston Herald

“PROBING AND AMBITIOUS … a masterful tale of eco-terrorism that chills Chief Inspector Wexford as none of his earlier cases have.”


Kirkus Reviews

“ABSORBING … The latest Inspector Wexford tale from the redoubtable Rendell has a spectacularly unexpected twist. It is as human drama rather than conventional mystery that Rendell’s books usually excel anyway, and this is no exception.”


Publishers Weekly

“RENDELL CREATES VERY REAL CHARACTERS AND WEXFORD IS ONE OF HER BEST … a methodical, extensive search moves the book along to a very surprising ending … a very pleasing mystery.”


San Francisco Examiner

“RENDELL IS ONE OF THE TOP BRITISH PROS, her prose and plot so tightly wrapped, readers who like to solve the mystery before the author reveals it will want to ponder every detail, as if working a crossword puzzle.”


Rocky Mountain News


Road Rage
has the satisfying qualities of the traditional British mystery—an intriguing puzzle, a stalwart and intelligent detective, and a satisfying ending. But it adds considerable depth to the tradition as well. Wexford is a complex and interesting character in his own right, and the issues which lead to the crimes he grapples with are compelling.”


Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Published by
Dell Publishing
a division of
Random House, Inc.

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 1997 by Kingsmarkham Enterprises, Ltd.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law. For information address: Crown Publishers, Inc., 201 East 50th Street, New York, New York 10022.

The trademark Dell
®
is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

eISBN: 978-0-307-80613-0

Reprinted by arrangement with Crown Publishers, Inc.

v3.1

Contents
1

W
exford was walking in Framhurst Great Wood for the last time. That was how he put it to himself. He had walked there for years, all his life, and walked as well as ever, was as strong, and would continue to be so for a long time yet. Not he, but the wood would change, the wood would scarcely be there. Savesbury Hill would scarcely be there or Stringfield Marsh, and the river Brede, into which the Kingsbrook flowed at Watersmeet, that too would be unrecognizable.

Nothing would happen yet. Months must pass first. For six months the trees would remain and the uninterrupted view over the hill, the otters in the Brede and the rare Map butterfly in Framhurst Deeps. But he didn’t think he could bear to see it anymore.

And that will be England gone,
The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,
The guildhalls, the carved choirs.
There’ll be books, it will linger on
In galleries; but all that remains
For us will be concrete and tyres.

He walked among the trees, chestnuts, great gray beeches with sealskin trunks, oaks whose branches had a green coating of lichen. The trees thinned and spread themselves across the grass that rabbits had cropped. He
saw that the coltsfoot was in bloom, earliest of wild-flowers. When he was young he had seen blue fritillaries here, plants so localized that they were seen only within a ten-mile radius of Kingsmarkham, but that was a long time ago. When I retire, he had told his wife, I want to live in London so that I can’t see the countryside destroyed.

A defeatist attitude, she said. You should fight to keep it. I haven’t noticed fighting keeping it, he’d said. She was on the committee of the newly formed KABAL, Kingsmarkham Against the Bypass and Landfill. They had already had one meeting and had sung “We Shall Overcome.” The Deputy Chief Constable had heard of it and said he hoped Wexford wasn’t thinking of joining as there was going to be trouble, trouble of a peace-disturbing and possibly violent kind, in which the Chief Inspector might well be, at least peripherally, involved.

A little breeze had got up. He came out of Framhurst Great Wood onto the open land and looked up at the ring of trees crowning Savesbury Hill. From here not a roof or tower or spire or silo or pylon could be seen, only birds flying in formation toward Cheriton Forest. The road would pass through the foundations of the Roman villa, the habitat of
Araschnia levana
, the Map butterfly, found nowhere else in the British Isles, cross the Brede and then the Kingsbrook. Unless the impossible happened and they made a tunnel for it or put it on stilts.
Araschnia
and the otters would like stilts about as much as they liked concrete, he thought.

Kingsmarkham wasn’t the only town in England whose bypass had been swallowed up in building and so become just another street. When that happened a new bypass had to be built, and when that too was engulfed, another perhaps. But he would be dead by then.

With this gloomy thought he returned to his car,
which he had left parked in Savesbury hamlet. He always came to his walk by car. Would he be prepared to give up his car for the sake of England? What a question!

He drove home through Framhurst and Pomfret Monachorum in a pessimistic mood and therefore noticing all the ugly things, the silos like iron sausages upended, the sheds full of battery hens, electricity substations sprouting wires, looking like newly landed aliens, bungalows with red brick garden walls and wrought-iron railings, Leylandii hedges. Nietzsche (or someone) had said that having no taste was worse than having bad taste. Wexford didn’t agree. On a happy day he would have observed newly planted well-chosen trees, roofs rethatched, cattle in the meadows, ducks paddling in couples, looking for nesting sites. But it wasn’t a happy day, not, that is, till he came into his house.

His wife’s habit was to come out of wherever she was to meet him when something good had happened, something she couldn’t wait to tell him. He bent down to pick up the card that had been dropped through the letter box, looked up, and saw her. She was smiling.

“You’ll never guess,” she said.

“No, I won’t, so don’t keep me in suspense.”

“You’re going to be a grandfather again.”

He hung up his coat. Their daughter Sylvia already had two children and a shaky relationship with her husband. He risked spoiling Dora’s pleasure. “Another scheme for keeping the marriage going?”

“It’s not Sylvia, Reg. It’s Sheila.”

He went up to her, put his hands on her shoulders.

“I said you’d never guess.”

“No, I never would have. Give me a kiss.” He hugged her. “It’s turned into a happy day.”

She didn’t know what he meant. “Of course I wish she
was married. It’s no good telling me one out of every three children is born out of wedlock.”

“I wasn’t going to,” he said. “Shall I phone her?”

“She said she’d be in all day. The baby’s due in September. She took her time telling us, I must say. Give me that card, Reg. Mary Pearson told me her son got a holiday job delivering those cards for this new car hire firm, Contemporary Cars, and he’s taking one to every house in Kingsmarkham. Every house—can you imagine?”

“ ‘Contemporary Cars’? No one’ll be able to pronounce it. Do we need a new car hire firm?”

“We need a good one.
I
do. You’ve always got the car. Go on, phone Sheila. I hope it’s a girl.”

“I don’t care what it is,” said Wexford, and he began dialing his daughter’s number.

2

T
he route planned for the Kingsmarkham Bypass was to begin at the arterial road (an A road with motorway status) north of Stowerton, pass east of Sewingbury and Myfleet, cut across Framhurst Heath, enter the valley at the foot of Savesbury Hill, bisect Savesbury hamlet, cross Stringfield Marsh, and rejoin the main road north of Pomfret. The minimum of residential area was to be disturbed, Cheriton Forest avoided, and the remains of the Roman villa just circumvented.

Probably the first remark on the subject to appear in a newspaper was that made by Norman Simpson-Smith of the British Council for Archaeology.

“The Highways Agency says this road will pass through the periphery of the villa,” he said. “That is like saying an access road being built in London would only cause minor damage to Westminster Abbey.”

Until then the protest had simply taken the form of representation by various bodies at the inquiry held jointly by the Departments of Transport and the Environment. Friends of the Earth, the Sussex Wildlife Trust, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds were the obvious ones. Less expected presences were those of the Council for British Archaeology, Greenpeace, the World Wide Fund for Nature, KABAL, and a body that called itself SPECIES.

But after Simpson-Smith’s comment the protests came,
as Wexford put it, not in single spies but in battalions. The environmental groups, whose members numbered two million, sent representatives to look at the site. Marigold Lambourne, of the British Society of Entomologists, was there on behalf of both the scarlet tiger moth and the Map butterfly.


Araschnia
is found thinly distributed in northeastern France,” she said, “and solely in the British Isles on Framhurst Heath. There are probably two hundred specimens extant. If this bypass is built, there will soon be none. This is not some minuscule fly we are talking about or bacterium invisible to the naked eye but an exquisite butterfly with a two-inch wingspan.”

Peter Tregear of the Sussex Wildlife Trust said, “This bypass is a project dreamed up in the seventies and approved in the eighties. But there has been a revolution in global thinking since then. It is all utterly inappropriate for the end of the century.”

A woman wearing a sandwich board with NO, NO, NO TO RAPE OF SAVESBURY painted on it appeared on the hill when the tree fellers moved in. It was June and warm and the sun was shining. She took off the sandwich board and revealed herself entirely naked. The tree fellers, who would have cheered and whistled if she had been young or had been sent to one of them as a strippergram, turned away and set to even more busily with their chain saws. The foreman called the police on his cell phone. Thus the woman, whose name was Debbie Harper, got her photograph—her large shapely body wrapped by then in a policeman’s jacket—in all the national papers and onto the front page of the
Sun
.

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