Briarpatch is my favorite kind of urban fantasy: an original stand-alone novel where the characters are not overwhelmed by greater powers and do battle with wits instead of physical skill or luck. The main characters are two sad souls wandering through the world, often feeling like the deck is stacked against them -- which, in fact, it is.
Darren and Orville, the main characters, are troubled young men who discover, in the aftermath of tragic events, a world that exists alongside our own. The Briarpatch, as others have labeled it, exists in a state of improbability, and few can see it, much less navigate it.
Briarpatch is an enjoyable read filled with genuine wonders and horrors. I liked Orville a bit more than Darren, for whatever reason, so I would have liked more from his perspective. But I would love to read more urban fantasy like this.
This is the first Inspector Wexford novel, and while it isn't as fully formed as some of her later books, it's still a good one. A dull housewife is found in the woods, violently murdered in an apparent crime of passion. Though at first few claim to remember her, the investigation turns up a series of strange relationships with the victim.
Even once you've figured out the trick, (which you will; it may have been missable in 1964, but it's a pretty easy one now) Rendell has one decent red herring left. You'll still figure it out by the end, but Rendell always makes for a good story along the way.
The second Wexford novel, Sins of the Fathers, strikes me as a degree of magnitude better; it has a fairly unconventional ending for a mystery novel, and some squirmy philosophical questions in the mix. Rendell, who started off writing good, solid stories, was apparently a quick study in the art of mystery novels.