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by Ruth Rendell, read by Nickolas Grace
Whole Story Audio Books, August 2010
Unabridged pages
19.99 GBP
ISBN: 1407459112

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

TIGERLILY'S ORCHIDS is the kind of story that used to be written by Ruth Rendell wearing her Barbara Vine hat before she 'came out', so to speak. And it's also the sort that one of our grande dames of crime fiction can knock out with her eyes closed.

It's set in an unidentifiable corner of north London in and around a small block of flats and focuses on a motley crew of residents. Stuart Font has just come into some money and buys a flat with his legacy. He's a rather dim, too-handsome lad with no inclination to work if he doesn't have to. And he's also having an affair with a married woman, which adds a certain spice to his house-warming party, attended by everyone in the block.

Typically with Rendell/Vine, the book relies on suspense, tension and uncertainty, rather than all-out action. It's a true example of a character-driven novel. And therein lie some of its problems. It's difficult to feel much affection for most of the characters, particularly the self-centred, narcissistic Stuart. There's also a creepy caretaker, a dodgy doctor with a line in useless newspaper articles, three selfish students and a woman slowly drinking herself to death. And, always in the background, is Tigerlily, the mysterious Oriental girl with whom Stuart is obsessed.

Where the book hits home every time, though, is in the unflinching portrayal of Olwen, the alcoholic. The most painful sections are where we witness her steady decline. Rendell stays away from cliché both here and in the characters of Marius and Rose, the old hippies who are possibly the most sympathetic people in TIGERLILY'S ORCHIDS.

It's a fairly slow tale with an old-fashioned feel to some of the language at times, and lacks the claustrophobia of many of Rendell/Vine's other standalones. But her unwavering eye for detail and characters' flaws makes it a book worth persevering with – despite a slightly erratically-paced reading by Nickolas Grace who alternates between languidly off-hand and sounding like he's calling home the runners in the Derby.

§ Sharon Wheeler is a UK-based journalist, writer and lecturer.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, December 2010

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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