Monday, September 18, 2006

What I'm Reading: Ruth Rendell

I picked up The Crocodile Bird two weeks ago at my mom's, a good solid psychological thriller by Ruth Rendell. The title was familiar, so was the picture on the front. The story wasn't. How fortunate that I decided to (I thought) re-read it, only to discover that I hadn't read it before. The Crocodile Bird unfolds as sixteen-year-old Liza, embarking on a new life, tells her life story in nightly installments to the boyfriend with whom she's run away. She recounts her protected childhood, isolated from the world on a country estate with only her mother for company. Liza's innocence about daily modern life contrasts sharply with her matter-of-fact accounts of what happened to the men who disappeared after meeting her mother.

Ruth Rendell is a master storyteller. Her Inspector Wexford crime thrillers are interesting, intelligent and satisfying to read. Mystery and crime writing at its very best. Wexford quotes Shakespeare and makes reference to Through the Looking Glass, wonders what the world is coming to, struggles with his diet and his relationships with his daughters. What makes her books so readable is that they offer more than just straight-forward whodunit mystery. Rendell must be an astute observer of people, both strengths and follies; her characters are complex and credible. Her writing offers, particularly through Wexford, low-key commentary on human nature and why we do the things we do.

Back from the weekend visit to Mom's, I picked this one up at the library. An Inspector Wexford mystery, The Babes in the Woods is the story of two teens gone missing along with the family friend staying while their parents were away.

Another library find, Harm Done adresses not only the mystery of two teen girls gone missing then mysteriously returned unharmed, but also mobs, spousal abuse, and the dilemmas posed for the police when a pedophile is released from prison back into the community after serving his time.

The Tree of Hands is the Rendell that I've enjoyed the most. As a matter of fact, I may request it from the library. If Ruth Rendell is new to you, this is a good book to start with. I'd also recommend A Judgement in Stone and The Lake of Darkness .


One last author recommendation: More Ruth Rendell, writing as Barbara Vine. A Dark-Adapted Eye, is more psychological study than mystery, and it's gripping. Writing as Barbara Vine, Rendell doesn't follow the classic whodunit pattern in a crime is committed and a detective must follow the chain of clues to solve the mystery. Instead the novel opens as Vera Hillyard is about to hang for her crime and traces the events that lead Vera to commit the crime for which she must be hanged. I thoroughly enjoy reading Ruth Rendell novels, and I think that her Vine novels are even better. Intriguing and complex studies not just of crime, but of human nature, Vine gets at what motivates us all, and how relationships and impulses can become so knotty and twisted that they lead to (fortunately fictional) dark and bizarre crimes.

1 comment:

Dick said...

Ruth Rendell's insights into the nature of human evil are so penetrating as to be almost eerie.