Friday, October 06, 2006

Books: The Minotaur • Barbara Vine

• This novel is a bit of a beast.

Genre: Mystery
Published: March 21, 2006, by Shaye Areheart Books
Verdict: &&1/2

At least one and possibly two Vines (The Chimney Sweeper's Boy and No Night Is too Long) would rank among my top 10 favorite novels, but this 1960s-set drawing room character study tested my patience. A young Swedish nurse, Kerstin Kvist, is hired to provide care for John Cosway, a misunderstood autistic man living with his mother, stuffy old Mrs. Cosway, and his four spinster sisters. This takes place at Lydstep Old Hall, an English mansion with a library containing a maze and dark family secrets hiding in the shadows, as they do in all Vines. Kerstin quickly surmises that John is being fed pills he doesn't need to keep him tranquilized, and she's left with little to do beyond make notations in her diary about the sisters' conflicts and romantic affairs while pining for John to come out of his fog — something his mother fears. The writer (Ruth Rendell, penning her 12th pseudonymous Vine) is particularly adept at portraits of troubled souls, but this is ultimately less about John than the sisterly and motherly drama that builds to an unsurprising and not particularly interesting climax. Though the prose flows with her usual grace and literary precision, The Minotaur doesn't live up to the master's usual standards.

// Incidentally // Patricia Cornwell has called Rendell/Vine "unequivocally, the most brilliant mystery writer of our time."

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