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by Ruth Rendell
Crown Publishers, January 2001
218 pages
ISBN: 0609608533

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Honours such as the Crime Writer's Association Gold Dagger, the Mystery Writers of America Edgar, the Sunday Times Literary Award, and the Crime Writers' Association Cartier Diamond Dagger for outstanding contribution to the genre are not handed out lightly. Still less are the CBE or life peerages. Ruth Rendell is the amazing author who has been thus recognised.

Rendell's work includes Harm Done, A Sight for Sore Eyes, Road Rage, The Keys to the Street, Simisola, Kissing the Gunner's Daughter to name a very few books of her enormous output since From Doon With Death was published in 1964. Her Inspector Wexford books have been turned into an extremely successful series of television programs which has been screened throughout the world. Although Rendell has nothing to do with writing the TV scripts, she has formed a friendship with George Baker, the actor who plays Wexford.

Rendell, whose parents were both teachers, resisted the impulse to follow in their footsteps and instead embarked on a short-lived journalistic career. It is amazing to think that none of her stories saw publication until she was thirty-three. Her immense output since then has been written under the nom-de-plume 'Barbara Vine', as well as under her own name. While best known for her mystery novels she is not confined to that genre.

Piranha to Scurfy is an anthology comprising eleven stories of which two, the title tale and High Mysterious Union are novellas. I suspect Piranha to Scurfy (a volume of the Encyclopaedia Britannica) is by way of being a form of vengeance on members of the Word Police who besiege authors with listings of trivial mistakes in their books. In this story, Ambrose Ribbon pursues this particular career to the exclusion of all others, with disastrous results.

The other novella, High Mysterious Union, to me had overtones of John Wyndham's classic, The Midwich Cuckoos. Writer and translator Ben Powell has been loaned Gothic House, an isolated house in an isolated village 'somewhere in England'. So isolated is the village that the gene pool has existed with scarcely a ripple for many years. Ben's benefactress has, with good reason, become estranged from the village and its inhabitants but she thinks Gothic House is just what Ben requires to concentrate on work and forget about his failed marriage.

The collection, while suspenseful, is not what one would altogether categorise as the suspense genre; rather is it dark fantasy intermingled with horror as well as mystery. The book is a gloriously involving read for a weekend evening... especially a dark and stormy winter night!

Reviewed by Denise Wels, August 2001

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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