Ruth Rendell but not quite as we know and expect her to be
Ruth Rendell has a long and distinguished career as a crime novelist, both of a series involving an ongoing inspector (Wexford) and as a crime writer of standalone books, without any ongoing investigator, And then there is her writing using another name, Barbara Vine. The Vine books (which I generally prefer) are rather darker and rather more devoted to complex subterranean psychology. It could be said they are really psychological thrillers.
Curiously, Rendell’s latest `Barbara Vine’ did not quite `bite’ with me the way she usually does.
This latest Rendell is also not quite as usual Rendell. For those expecting a crime, and an investigation to unmask the perpetrator it will come as a bit of a surprise to find the crime, and the perpetrator, and indeed the motive, are all explained in the blurb.
In the 40s, a man murders his wife and her lover, does a bit of dismemberment and buries their hands in a biscuit tin. (he saw them holding hands, when he came home unexpectedly, which alerted him to what was going on). Local children, including his son, play in the tunnels in semi-rural Loughton (as it was then) The tunnels will serve as a hiding place for the hands
Jumping forward more than 60 years the community of children have gone their separate ways, though some have kept in contact. Their lives begin to connect again when building development work uncovers the hands and the tin, and a half-hearted cold cases enquiry begins. Half-hearted as it is pretty obvious that whoever did the deed, and on whom, is most likely to be dead. The children who played in the tunnels are either themselves dead or in their seventies and more.
What the `crime hook’ does to is to reunite a group of very different elderly people, and `the hands’ are what connects their lives together again, whether they directly affected some of the major players at the time (for example the murderer’s son) or later, as the various at-the-time mysteries begin to be remembered and picked over.
What the book is really about is the passage of time, and, particularly, a look at the loves, lives and losses of a group of elderly people.
There are some things which are clearly `devices’ and don’t quite work – for example, the very burial of those hands, and the comparative ease with which the murderer got away with his murders, but I did get interested in the lives of the elderly group.
The exploration of the long uncoupling of marriages, and the enduring potency of first love, and, yes, the existence of sexuality and passionate feelings in a group of people whom most of us might think are `past it’ proved more absorbing than I might have supposed.
I received this as a review copy from the publishers
The photo of Rendell is from The Daily Telegraph, and in their review of this novel we were reminded that she has been writing crime fiction (and more) for over 50 years. She is now in her 80s. Gosh. And clearly, is still writing prolifically