Mystery Books for Sale

[ Home ]
[ About | Reviews | Search | Submit ]


by Ruth Rendell
Doubleday Canada, November 2006
304 pages
$34.95 CDN
ISBN: 0385662696

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Sisters Ismay and Heather share a flat in Clapham that was carved out of their childhood home. Upstairs, in another flat, live their schizophrenic mother Beatrix and her sister Pamela. The conversion was Pamela's brainchild, a way of transforming the scene of a possible murder, the drowning of the girls' stepfather in the bath fifteen years ago.

Ismay has long suspected Heather of having committed the crime, but neither she, nor anyone else for that matter, has ever quite had the courage to ask her. Ismay believes that Heather might have killed Guy to protect her elder sister from his advances, advances which Ismay admits that she welcomed at the time, brimming as she was with adolescent hormones and curiosity. Thus, at the outset of the novel, we appear to have the makings of an involuted tale of a blocked family bound to one another by bonds of guilt and suspicion.

We would be wrong. Rendell has other strings to her bow. She rapidly introduces other characters into the mix, one, at least, far more dubious than any of the Clapham lot. These characters represent an entire range of London social possibilities, from a homeless addict who survives largely on what he finds in the rubbish bins of the West End all the way to an extremely wealthy Muslim businessman, and to a successful young lawyer and his socialite girlfriend. The thread that connects all these is the repellent Marion, not a character one is likely to forget, as we observe her literally dancing her way through the streets of London, making her rounds from one household to the next in the hopes of being remembered in somebody's will.

What seems to begin as a straightforward suspense novel -- did Heather kill? Will she kill again? -- develops in odd and unpredictable ways as all of these characters come into contact with one another and effect enormous changes in each other's lives. The reader is induced to imagine one dreadful possibility after another and reads on compulsively to see which, if any, will occur.

The novels that, like this one, are set in London are usually classified as standalones in distinction to the Wexford police procedural series. But I think that a series is emerging in these novels, connected not by recurrent specific characters but by a city that defines its people in an utterly characteristic way. Dickens' London was like that, and Marion would appear right at home in any Dickens street.

Like Dickens, Rendell deploys the long arm of coincidence to move her characters to the edge of disaster, and, as in Dickens, we come to see that what is really at work is inexorable fate, not mere bad luck. Unlike Dickens, however, Rendell does not return us to the safety of our home and fireside at the end, but leaves us outside in a profoundly unfair universe. Rendell's cool and occasionally playful prose expresses a sensibility that sometimes makes Ken Bruen appear a bit of a softy.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, November 2006

[ Top ]



Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

[ About | Reviews | Search | Submit ]
[ Home ]