Saturday, May 03, 2008

Books: The Water's Lovely • Ruth Rendell

Genre: Mystery, psychological suspense
Released: July 17, 2007
Verdict: &&&

Having read about two dozen novels by Ruth Rendell and her alter ego, Barbara Vine, I've never felt I could sense the old master pulling the strings of her hapless characters until The Water's Lovely. At the heart of the plot is a dark family secret — no surprise there — involving the death of a stepfather-to-be of a pair of sisters. It's not giving anything away to say that one of the sisters had a hand in his death, and it casts a shadow over the rest of their lives and drives their mother to madness. Repercussions of that murderous act surface later in life as the two court prospective mates. Meanwhile, Rendell's wicked, deadpan sense of humor is in rare form, and she's having nearly too much fun with a character who is consumed with hypochondria, a young lady who sits with the elderly while plotting to get in their good graces and then kill them for their fortune, and a character who encounters the miseries of dating in late middle age. It's all spun with her usual skill and elegant prose but feels a tad contrived when measured against late-period peaks such as A Sight for Sore Eyes.

Incidental >> Rendell's next novel, Not in the Flesh, an entry in the venerable Wexford series, is due June 10.

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