Rendell rocks in The Vault murderous paean to her beloved areas of central London.
The secrets of a coal cellar are revealed in a series of grisly set-pieces centering on picaresque Orcadia Cottage, the Georgian St. John’s Wood home immortalized by the acclaimed artist Simon Alpheton. Although Simon and his redheaded muse, Harriet, are long gone, the green leaves of the house continue to entwine in the form of a lovers' embrace.
Built of bricks in a pretty pale red color and owned by Martin and Anne Rokeby, Orcadia cottage is about to unfurl its dark secrets. When Martin is denied permission from the housing authority to build under the house, he uncovers the vault on the patio and gains a place for his home on the front page of every daily newspaper.
Inside dwells a large plastic bag as well as skulls, the bones of a skeleton, and a badly decomposed corpse. The couple are flabbergasted - Anne even faints after seeing her husband’s gruesome discovery. Martin has absolutely no idea of how the corpses came to be in this charnal house containing the remains of four bodies: two men and two women, the younger of which has been in the vault for only two years.
From the outset, uncertainly permeates this difficult case. While staying with Sheila, his elder daughter, in the coach house on her large Victorian estate on the edge of Hamstead Heath, retired Chief Inspector Wexford is only too willing to be an unofficial expert adviser to Detective Inspector Tom Ede. Ede
attacks the case with solid vigor as forensics reveal that the bodies were enclosed in an impregnable tomb until the fourth body was added.
DNA samples show that the older and younger man were related - maybe cousins. The women have no connection
to the men or with each other. None of them correspond to the descriptions of any persons reported missing twelve years ago. Apart from the stairs
leading down to the cellar and the coalhole witht no doors to them, the only other clue is the name Francine
and the words "La Punaise" written on a piece of paper and placed on one of the bodies.
London blooms, the roses dripping blossoms over ancient, moss-grown brick walls. Orcadia Cottage is still as if nothing had ever disturbed its peacefulness,
while Wexford meets a number of personal challenges. The detective must come to terms with retirement, his wife, Dora’s, discontentedness, and their love of their Kingsmarkham house
into which their younger daughter, Sylvia, has moved after suffering a devastating knife attack.
Rendell excels in assembling her group of unhappy people: a bigoted neighbor, gruff builders, a slick architect, and a young illegal girl. While Wexford’s one-time subordinate Mike Burdon gives advice, most compelling is Wexford’s attention to detail as he walks the streets of London, determined to crack the stark and brutal reality of the case.