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The late Ruth Rendell has long been one of my all-time favorite mystery novelists. Her characterization coupled with intricate plotting and ingenious crimes ensure that her novels will be savored by readers. It is for this reason that I have decided to pay tribute to Ruth Rendell in my first in a series of blog posts on mystery series that I enjoyed enough that, given the time, I would joyfully read AGAIN.
Ruth Rendell is the queen of the ‘whydunnit‘ as opposed to the ‘whodunnit’.
The Inspector Wexford stories are an excellent example of quintessential British police procedural mysteries. Set in the fictional town of Kingsmarkham, in Sussex, England, these fine novels feature Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford, his Detective Inspector, Mike Burden, and Wexford’s long-suffering wife Dora, and two daughters, Sheila (his favorite) and Sylvia (who lives with an enormous chip on her shoulder when it comes to her father).
The somewhat curmudgeonly Reginald Wexford is in his early fifties when we first meet him in “From Doon with Death“. Keenly intelligent, he is an avid reader and he utilizes his imagination and sensitivity when solving crimes. Rendell describes him as “a big, ugly man”. He is a master of the study of human behavior and displays a keen psychological insight in his work. His second in command, Mike Burden is resourceful, respectful, and above all…patient.
There are 24 full-length novels in the Wexford mystery series. There are also many short stories featuring brief Wexford cases in several of Rendell’s anthologies. Anyone who has yet to read this wonderful series is indeed ‘in for a treat’!
#1. From Doon with death
#2 A new lease of death (also published under the title “Sins of the fathers”
#3. Wolf to the slaughter
#4. The best man to die
#5. A guilty thing surprised
#6. No more dying then
#7. Murder being once done
#8. Some lie and some die
#9. Shake hands forever
#10. A sleeping life
#11. Put on by cunning (also published under the title “Death notes”)
#12. The speaker of Mandarin
#13. An unkindness of ravens
#14. The veiled one
#15. Kissing the gunner’s daughter
#17. Road rage
#18. Harm done
#19. The babes in the wood
#20. End in tears
#21. Not in the flesh
#22. The monster in the box
#23. The vault
#24. No man’s nightingale
Means of evil and other stories (short stories featuring Wexford)
The Wexford mysteries were adapted for television with the late George Baker in the title role and Christopher Ravenscroft playing the part of DI Mike Burden.
Ruth Rendell wrote myriad mysteries under her own name, and many dark, psychological thrillers under her pseudonym of Barbara Vine.
She was a good friend of the late P.D. James (another of my favorites).
They died just months apart…
I like to think they are somewhere chatting about fictional crimes over a cup of tea.
This is the engaging story of two people who come together in friendship, kindness, affection, and appreciation. A remarkable and heart-rending novel that perfectly illustrates the quote:
“Friends are the family we choose for ourselves.”
The first lines of “Soft in the head” hooked me:
“‘I’ve decided to adopt Margueritte. She’ll be eighty-six any day now so there seemed no point putting it off. Old people have a tendency to die.’
“When people are always cutting you down,
you don’t get a chance to grow.”
Germain is, by his own definition, a forty-five year old thug. A man large in both stature and heart, who has been belittled by everyone in his life, but most particularly by his mother and his teachers. He lives in a tiny caravan at the bottom of his mother’s garden. He and his mother seldom speak. She considers him an ignorant nuisance, actually calls him a worthless halfwit, and has never shown him any hint of maternal love.
Lacking in tact and social graces, he is frequently the butt of jokes and innuendo that he almost, but not quite, understands. He is of less than average intelligence, but he has a great thirst for new words and stories. He believes that if he knew more words he would be able to get his point across better and people would think of him as being less ‘stupid’.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself…. Germain only begins to think this way after he meets up with an eighty-six year old woman by the name of Margueritte. Margueritte is a very intelligent and well read woman. And, more importantly, she has time for Germain and talks to him with respect. Respect is something that Germain has never before experienced and he finds it to be a wonderful thing.
“… she always talked to me like I was a person.
And you see, that can change a man.”
She reads him passages from the book she is reading, “The plague” by Albert Camus. Germain is a good listener and he suspects that Margueritte’s love of books and reading are what make her ‘smart’.
“By accident, Margueritte had triggered a burning desire for thinking,
it was like my brain had a hard on.”
Germain sees beyond her exterior. He says: “When I look at Margueritte, it’s funny, I don’t see a little old lady who weighs about forty kilos, all crumpled like a poppy, her spine a little bent and her hands all shrivelled, I see that in her head she has thousands of bookshelves all carefully catalogued and numbered.“
Margueritte introduces Germain to his own potential. She gives him a dictionary with little flash cards so that he will know what order the letters come in. It is because of her that he discovers the riches that can be discovered in libraries.
What a delightful and heart-warming book! I’m going to recommend it to everyone I know. I haven’t enjoyed a little novel this much since Fredrik Backman’s “A man called Ove“.
I heartily recommend this novel to bibliophiles everywhere. It is a timeless novel of human regard, respect and connection. It is also a treatise on how books and reading open minds and expose new worlds for the reader.
It will make you smile and weep. What more can a reader ask for?
This wonderful little story has been made into a movie called “My afternoons with Margueritte” starring Gérard Depardieu and Gisèle Casadesus. I must say even before I knew this, I pictured Depardieu as Germain.
Published for the first time in 1989 in children’s literature, Marie-Sabine Roger has not stopped writing since, in very different registers, albums and novels youth novels for older adolescents and adults, and new novels for adults, and more recently, collaborating on screenplays with Jean Becker. In recent years, it is aimed primarily at adult readers, while continuing to write books for very young readers.
This seems to be the year for debut novels that are very well crafted. “The couple next door” is a riveting suspense novel that keeps readers turning the pages frantically to follow the plight of its characters. With a fast-paced plot that is meticulously written, all I can say is well done Shari Lapena!
From the publisher:
Anne and Marco Conti seem to have it all–a loving relationship, a wonderful home, and their beautiful baby, Cora. But one night when they are at a dinner party next door, a terrible crime is committed. Suspicion immediately focuses on the parents. But the truth is a much more complicated story.
Inside the curtained house, an unsettling account of what actually happened unfolds. Detective Rasbach knows that the panicked couple is hiding something. Both Anne and Marco soon discover that the other is keeping secrets, secrets they’ve kept for years.
What follows is the nerve-racking unraveling of a family–a chilling tale of deception, duplicity, and unfaithfulness that will keep you breathless until the final shocking twist.
I agree with everything the publisher has to say. It is a novel of secrets, of betrayal, and of parental guilt. The reader has mixed feelings for the young couple with emotions that alternate between empathy and revulsion and everything else in between.
Anne Conti didn’t want to leave her baby alone the evening of their next door neighbors dinner party. But Cynthia, the hostess, wanted a ‘adults only’ party, the babysitter cancelled at the last minute, and her husband convinced her that if they took the baby monitor and took turns checking on baby Cora every half hour, it would be alright.
It was anything but!
Marco is very attracted to his next door neighbor Cynthia. He is tired of walking on eggshells around his wife Anne who has been suffering from postpartum depression. The night out serves as a much needed way to have more than a few drinks and blow off some steam. But… at the end of the day he DOES love Anne and he adores his baby daughter. So when they return home to an empty house with the baby gone, he is devastated.
Or is he???
This novel was written in such a way that the reader is unsure of whom to trust. Is Anne as innocent as she seems? Is Marco? Do they deserve the predicament they’ve found themselves in? Or, are they innocent and distraught that their first child has been taken? And what about Anne’s wealthy parents?
In all honesty, I should be giving this novel a strong 5* rating. The writing was superior and the tension was palpable.
There are however, mitigating factors which give me pause. When I began reading it I thought to myself that I had read this book before… but that was impossible as it is a new release. Then I looked back through my reviews and realized it is uncomfortably similar in premise to a novel by Joy Fielding called “She’s not there” which I reviewed about a year ago. The babysitter cancels, the child is left unattended in order that the parents can attend a dinner party. They agree to check on her every half hour. The husband is attracted to the wife of the other couple… See what I mean? Both novels are very well written, and the story-lines do diverge eventually, but one of the twists in each is also disturbingly similar. It almost makes me wonder if the authors attended a writer’s workshop or retreat that provided them with a short premise that they were to expand on. Interestingly, both authors reside in Toronto, Canada. Would I recommend both novels? Absolutely! Each did a remarkably good job, but the fact that the similarities exist prohibit me from giving “The couple next door” more than a 4* rating.
I’ve soul searched about this. I’m not suggesting anything was plagiarized, but it sparks the questions: Is anything ever truly original? Aren’t all novels a product of what we have seen, read, or experienced? I’d love your thoughts on this topic.
Shari Lapena worked as a lawyer and as an English teacher before turning her hand to writing fiction. She resides in Toronto, Canada. “The couple next door” is her suspense fiction debut.
I find myself attracted to certain kinds of covers. Covers are, after all, the way the publisher ‘hooks’ the reader into choosing one book over countless others.
When you look up at the tops of tall trees you feel small and inconsequential.
The majesty of the trees seems somehow greater than anything in ordinary life. These are great emotions to evoke for a fiction title. You will be entering a world apart from your own – even if it is just for a few hours, and the world you enter may be as majestic as the trees…
or… revisit the first nine installments of Cover Love:
Written in a dual narrative style, “The Daughters of Red Hill Hall” is set in the present day AND in 1838.
From the publisher:
When Gemma discovers a pair of ancient duelling pistols encrusted with rubies in the basement of the local museum, she is immediately intrigued…
On a fateful night in 1838 two sisters were found shot in the cellars of Red Hill Hall. And when Gemma begins to delve deeper into their history she begins to realise that the secrets of that night are darker than anyone had ever imagined.
As the shocking events of the past begin to unravel, Gemma’s own life starts to fall apart. Loyalties are tested and suddenly it seems as if history is repeating itself, as Gemma learns that female friendships can be deadly…
I love a good historical novel – and the promise of one written in a dual-narrative style, which is one of my favorites, held great appeal.
We meet two girls in 1838. They both reside at Red Hill Hall, a handsome family manor in Dorset. Rebecca Winton, is the daughter of the house, the other, Sarah Cooper, is the daughter of the housekeeper. When her mother dies, Sarah is welcomed into the family as a ‘sister’ of sorts and a best friend and companion to Rebecca. The girls are very close. That is until they grow up and there is a man involved…
I love it when a novel tells the stories of a historic building.
Skip ahead to the present where we meet archivist Gemma. She works in a museum cataloguing the exhibits. After she discovers the duelling pistols she also works at Red Hill Hall during her free time, organizing their historical documents. She is anxious to discover the history of the pistols and the family that once lived at the Hall. Gemma has a best friend named Natalie…. and a boyfriend named Ben.
Needless to say, the historical story and the present day story are almost mirror images of each other. Jealousy and psychotic vindictiveness play a large role is both narratives. The so called best friends try to sabotage the lives of the women they had previously been so fond of. A premise which seemed unrealistic to me…
Though the descriptive passages were very well executed, what I thought would be suspenseful could be best described as predictable and somewhat formulaic. I wasn’t a huge fan of either protagonist. Both Gemma and Rebecca seemed rather weak and ineffectual. So much so that I couldn’t really ‘root’ for them.
The novel contained an annoying repetition of the ‘word’ erm. I looked it up online and the urban dictionary says that erm is a word used commonly to fill awkward space in conversations. Well all I can say is that there must have been a LOT of awkward conversations in this novel! Example sentence: “Erm, yes. I would like that. But would you mind if I, erm, if I brought someone else along as well?”
In short, I liked and enjoyed the story line. The plot itself held a lot of potential, but the promised ‘twists’ ended up being predictable outcomes. The characters were just a bit to wishy-washy for my taste. The setting was wonderful. The writing was satisfactory, but what let it down was the scenes that contained dialogue. Most conversations seemed contrived and stilted.
With a promising premise, “The Daughters of Red Hill Hall” just didn’t live up to my expectations. I imagine that there are many who would like the story and the writing, but sadly this just wasn’t to my taste.
Thanks to Carina UK for approving my request for this novel on NetGalley.
Kathleen McGurl lives near the sea in Bournemouth, with her husband, sons and cats. She began her writing career creating short stories, and sold dozens to women’s magazines in the UK and Australia. Then she got side-tracked onto family history research – which led eventually to writing novels with genealogy themes. She has always been fascinated by the past, and the ways in which the past can influence the present., and enjoys exploring these links in her novels.
When not writing or working at her full-time job in IT, she likes to go out running or swimming, both of which she does rather slowly. She is definitely quicker at writing.