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The Water's Lovelyby Ruth Rendell
Synopses & Reviews
The award-winning author of The Babes in the Wood and The Rottweiler brings us another terrifically paced, richly drawn novel of suspense and psychological intrigue.
Weeks went by when Ismay never thought of it at all. Then something would bring it back or it would return in a dream. The dream always began in the same way.
She and her mother would be climbing the stairs, following Heathers lead through the bedroom to what was on the other side, not a bathroom in the dream but a chamber floored and walled in marble. In the middle of it was a glassy lake. The white thing in the water floated towards her, its face submerged, and her mother said, absurdly, “Dont look!”
The dead man was Ismays stepfather, Guy. Now, nine years on, she and her sister, Heather, still live in the same house in Clapham. But it has been divided into two self-contained flats. Their mother had lived upstairs with her sister, Pamela. And the bathroom, where Guy had drowned, had disappeared.
Ismay worked in public relations, and Heather in catering. They got on well. They always had. They never discussed the changes to the house, still less what had happened that August day. . .
But even lives as private as these, where secrets hang in the air like dust, intertwine with other worlds and other individuals. And, with painful inevitability, the truth will emerge.
"Ruth Rendell is dangerous. When she's at her best, you find yourself risking mayhem — turning pages while walking blindly around furniture or reading in the car at traffic lights until the honking begins. My copy of her new novel, 'The Water's Lovely,' wound up dog-eared, underlined and coffee-stained. Can a book earn a higher compliment than looking read to death? At 77, Rendell... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) is in absolute top form here. 'The Water's Lovely' is as suspenseful as any crime novel she has written, but it also has the generous humanity of her best Inspector Wexford cases. This time Rendell's focus has a wider depth of field than usual. Clearly, she is enjoying herself in this dark comedy of manners, and the suspense is tinged with irony. Characters include a middle-aged woman dangerously gambling on speed-dating and an amoral woman who systematically weasels her way into the last will and testament of elderly victims. A vapid heiress reads a description of herself as a 'socialite' and in outrage asks her boyfriend if it means the same as being in the Labor government. Her father 'loved the police almost as much as he loved the army and was thrilled to see so many of them carrying guns these days.' At the center of this colorful troupe are sisters Ismay and Heather, who live in a house divided into two generations and two eras: pre- and post-murder. Twelve years ago, at the age of 15, Ismay found her mother's new husband, Guy, drowned in the bath. Weakened by pneumonia, he might have passed out, but if so, why were younger sister Heather's clothes drenched? So mother and sister built Heather an alibi. The sisters avoided discussing the obvious, and over the years their mother sank into schizophrenia. Years later, when Ismay came home from college, the death scene had been erased by new rooms. Now she and Heather live below, and their mother, tended by her own sister, sits and stares above. She speaks only to cite dire prophecies from the Book of Revelation. Then Heather meets and starts dating Edmund, a nurse who still lives with his mother. Agonizing over whether to warn him that Heather may be a murderer, Ismay records her account of discovering Guy's body — and hides the tape. 'In all narration there is only one way to be clever,' wrote Robert Louis Stevenson, 'and that is to be exact.' Rendell is clever in many ways, but perhaps they all trace back to Stevenson's rule, because she is exact in both detail and expression. She never forgets that a murderer may dislike tofu or that a blackmailer might sneak to a rendezvous in toe-pinching high heels. When Ismay found Guy's body in the tub, she noticed 'his long white hands floating just below the surface of the cooling water.' A beggar has a 'face like an old handbag, an amalgam of pockets and dents and bloated pores, his teeth brown as tree bark.' Is Heather a killer? If so, why? And why is Ismay's new boyfriend, Andrew, driving the sisters apart? Rendell builds tension out of the situations that make real life suspenseful — the risk of betrayal, the volatility of the emotionally immature, the interest accruing on banked resentment. Her characters do not exist merely to murder, die or find a corpse. Unlike the tired repertory company recast by so many crime writers, most of Rendell's characters walk onstage as if they are already in the middle of busy lives. They had other plans when they stumbled into trouble. Not that Rendell is above dragging in a manufactured coincidence, and this book boasts a prizewinner. But to forbid all coincidence would be to ban Alfred Hitchcock and Wilkie Collins, and why deny ourselves such pleasure? Rendell provides the reader with many pleasures: her intelligence and humanity, her sculpted sentences, her jokeless wit, her refusal to join her colleagues in the torture-porn business to spice up her plots. Oh, yes — those plots. What a sneaky mind the woman has." Reviewed by Patrick Anderson, whose e-mail address is mondaythrillers(at symbol)aol.comRachel Hartigan Shea, who is a senior editor at The Washington Post Book WorldChris Bohjalian, the author of 10 novels, including 'Midwives' and 'The Double Bind'Carolyn See, who can be reached at www.carolynsee.comMichael Sims, who is editing his second crime anthology for Penguin Classics, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
From the award-winning author of "The Babes in the Wood" and "The Rottweiler" comes another terrifically paced, richly drawn novel of suspense and psychological intrigue.
About the Author
Ruth Rendell has won many awards, including the Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger for 1976s best crime novel with A Demon in My View; a second Edgar in 1984 from the Mystery Writers of America for the best short story, The New Girl Friend; a Gold Dagger award for Live Flesh in 1986. She was also the winner of the 1990 Sunday Times Literary Award, as well as the Crime Writers Association Cartier Diamond Dagger. In 1996 she was awarded the CBE and in 1997 became a Life Peer.
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