So, even though it was a Wednesday I read the entire Rendell in one sitting. I always do that with her books. I can't put them down. I've been reading Ruth Rendell since I was in high school and I worked in a library. She's virtually the only mystery writer I read consistently and one of only a few that I read at all (P.D. James, Elizabeth George--though I have mixed feelings about her). These are living writers--I've read all of Doyle, of course, and Dorothy L. Sayers. I've never been a fan of Agatha Christie. I like writers who are more interested in the why than the how or the who.
I think Rendell is the world's best mystery writer and I think it sad that she is not considered one of the best writers because of the genre in which she writes. In that class I took on European lit. with April Bernard I asked April why she didn't have a Rendell when she had Patricia Highsmith and Muriel Spark. She said that she didn't think Rendell was as universal as PH and MS, but I disagree. This latest book is hardly a mystery at all--the body is dead years before and the "who dun it" is pretty much given. But it is the knowledge of the murderer that has shaped the lives of two young women and warped their lives--and it is that that forms the soul of the novel. Her characters are always vivid and to me very real. They are generally not pleasant. That one sister is weak, and pathetic and has only managed to survive because of her beauty and the other strong because of her plainness is also a major portion of their psychology and she doesn't shy away from it. I know people who don't read Rendell because her characters are often so awful--the blackmailing, cheating, lieing character in this ends up happy and married for instance, while the strong sister is dead in the Asian Tsunami is heartbreaking, but that is life, isn't it? The good do not get their rewards on earth, and the bad are not always caught. Not my favorite book by her, but definitely high on the list.