Simisola by Ruth Rendell Hutchinson $255 THIS book is a departure from Ruth Rendell's 15 previous mysteries starring Chief Inspector Reg Wexford. Certainly there's a murder to be solved; more than one, in fact. But as much as building her detective's case, Rendell tackles the issues it raises, in particular racism in Britain, unemployment and the treatment of migrant workers. Kingsmarkham, the fictional Sussex town in which the chief inspector and his trusty sidekick, Inspector Mike Burden, are based has become more a grim legacy of the Thatcher years than a picture postcard setting. A good detective story and political correctness aren't necessarily poor bedfellows. Rendell interweaves social comment and her detective mystery in a dramatic updating of the genre. But this emphasis on issues, centred on the disappearance of Melanie Akande, a young, black, unemployed woman, the daughter of Wexford's own GP, last seen at the local Jobcentre, is not always successful. At times it slows the pace to a degree that tension, one of Rendell's hallmarks, is notably lacking. With Wexford's daughter, Sylvia, a social worker, and her architect husband, Neil, made redundant and popping in to her parents' for meals, opportunities for musings on the plight of the unemployed are plentiful. So are chances for political comment, with local elections underway and one of the independent candidates pivotal to the plot - and determined to woo the Liberal Democrat Wexford's vote. I admire Rendell's sentiments and would not say they have no place in a detective novel, but it's a change of style and pace which takes getting used to. The plot is interesting and though it's not of the couldn't-put-it-down ilk, Simisola is an entertaining and workmanlike read. Rendell telegraphs her punches more than usual, at times heavily. The whodunit was a surprise, as always, but the whydunit was not. Probably she intends it that way, leading the reader inevitably to that conclusion, as she develops a critique of British immigration law through the treatment of a major and several minor characters. It would reveal too much to explain the book's title, only revealed in the final paragraph, or to elaborate on this denouement. It's not that I didn't enjoy Simisola, nor that it doesn't deserve its place in the British bestseller lists. But just as this is not the Kingsmarkham of old, nor is this thoughtful, rather gloomy detective the Wexford of old, and I have to admit some disappointment.