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Posts Tagged ‘The Child’s Child’

rendellSometime back in the 1980s, I called Ruth Rendell “a literary Hitchcock,” and the phrase stuck. It was picked up in blurbs on paperbacks, sometimes attributed to me at the Orlando Sentinel, sometimes to other papers — the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Chicago Tribune — where my reviews also ran. I repeated it myself, or variations thereof, as in this 1989 review of  The House of Stairs, written under her Barbara Vine pseudonym: “Again we see how Rendell/Vine has become the Hitchcock of the literary thriller, approaching her subjects from unexpected angles and finding the odd twist that throws readers for a loop.”

Oh, I’m going to miss her. Ruth Rendell died Saturday in London, age 85. She wrote more than 60 books, both traditional detective stories featuring Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford, and chilling novels of psychological suspense. She wrote the latter under the Rendell name, and she further transcended the genre with the Vine books. The first was A Dark Adapted Eye in 1986, and she once told me in an interview that she knew from the beginning which book would be a Ruth Rendell and which a Barbara Vine. “Barbara,” she said, “was more serious,” and the crimes depicted were more sensational, the kind that captured public attention and might result in a dramatic trial or a family scandal.

All of her novels were intricately plotted, less interested in the “whodunit” and  more in the how and why. I’m pretty sure I’ve read them all, including the collections of short stories and the frosty novella Heartstones. Many of her characters were outsiders, perhaps mentally disturbed or caught up in strange obsessions. She was interested in questions of identity, especially in the Vine novels, and her narrators tended toward the unreliable. She wasn’t afraid of the sordid, the grotesque, the downright creepy.

In person, Rendell was pleasant and thoughtful, somewhat reserved. She took her writing seriously, she said, but not herself, and she had more ideas than time to write. Her most recent Rendell was The Girl Next Door, which I wrote about in the post “Scare Tactics” in November of last year. Its mystery centered on a pair of severed, skeletal hands — one male, one female — found in a tin box by construction workers. The last Wexford was 2013’s No Man’s Nightingale, in which the aging detective  came out of retirement to investigate the murder of a vicar. But this is no armchair cozy, I wrote, because the strangled vicar is a single mother, whose race, gender and progressive views divided her congregation. (After 2004’s The Babes in the Woods, the 19th Wexford, Rendell told me she thought it might be the last unless she had a really good idea. She then wrote five more Wexfords).

Vine wasn’t quite as prolific as Rendell. There are just 13, including 2013’s The Child’s Child, a book within a book. I wrote that whenever Rendell assumes her Vine pseudonym, I think of a snake in a figure eight swallowing its tail or of matryoshkas, the Russian nesting dolls. The Vine novels still can surprise me on rereading because I never can remember all the secrets of The Minotaur, say, or Asta’s Book (published in the U.S. as Anna’s Book).

The New York Times obituary states that Rendell’s final book, Dark Corners, is to be published in October. I don’t know if it’s a Wexford, a Rendell stand-alone or a Vine. I know I can’t wait to read it, and that I’m sorry it will be the last.

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robinsonPeter Robinson’s series detective Alan Banks has little in common with David Baldacci’s Army Special Agent John Puller. But both the thoughtful Yorkshire copper and the cunning combat veteran face complex cases involving human trafficking and possible police corruption.

In Robinson’s deft Watching the Dark (Morrow, digital galley via edelweiss), the crossbow murder of a fellow cop eventually leads Banks to Tallinn, Estonia, where a pretty British teenager disappeared six years ago. Much to his dismay, Banks is accompanied by a Professional Standards officer, Joanna Passero, while his usual partner, Annie Cabbot, stays home investigating a migrant labor scam. When Banks discovers a link between the cases, he puts his and his colleagues’ lives in jeopardy.

baldacciSimilar peril finds Puller in the small Florida panhandle town of Paradise in Baldacci’s The Forgotten (Grand Central Publishing, purchased hardcover) when he uncovers evidence that his elderly aunt’s drowning death may be connected to the murder of a local retired couple. Puller takes his time piecing the puzzle and wrangling with local law enforcement, while an enigmatic gardener plots revenge at a wealthy tycoon’s gated estate. But all is revealed in an explosive finale that had me flipping pages.

nineteenSmugglers also play a part in Janet Evanovich’s new Stephanie Plum tale, Notorious Nineteen (Random House, library hardcover). I gave up on the flip New Jersey bounty agent a few books back as her adventures became more raucous, raunchy and ridiculous. But she’s in fine form in this entertaining escapade hunting for patients who have mysteriously disappeared from a local hospital. So, too, are Morelli, Ranger and other series regulars, including Rex the hamster and Bob the dog, but several cars lose their lives.

childsWhen Ruth Rendell assumes her Barbara Vine pseudonym, I think of a snake in a figure eight swallowing its tail, or of matryoshkas, the Russian nesting dolls. Just summing up The Child’s Child (Scribner, digital galley via edelweiss) requires many little gray cells. In this book-within-a-book, siblings Grace and Andrew Easton agree to share their late grandmother’s London houseEnter James Derain, Andrew’s handsome lover, who argues with Grace over her doctoral dissertation on society’s attitudes about unwed mothers. Two events further complicate their lives: James and Andrew witness a friend’s murder outside a nightclub, and Grace discovers an unpublished 1951 novel about a gay man who masquerades as his younger sister’s husband to give her illegitimate child a name. Vine’s artful storytelling encompasses sex, lies, murder and social taboos past and present. It’s engrossing reading even though the characters are often unsympathetic.

mcmahonJennifer McMahon also does some nifty time-shifting in her harrowing The One I Left Behind (HarperCollins, digital galley via edelweiss), as a successful architect confronts her past and a creepy serial killer dubbed Neptune. The summer Reggie is 13 and hanging out with fellow uncool kids Tara and Charlie, her has-been actress mother Vera disappears and is presumed to be Neptune’s last victim after her severed hand is delivered to the small town’s police station. A quarter century later, Vera reappears in a homeless shelter, but she is suffering from cancer and dementia. Reggie returns to her childhood home where she lived with her aunt to help care for her mother. Tara and Charlie are still around, as are several of Vera’s old boyfriends and Charlie’s cop father. So, too, is Neptune. Yikes!

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