Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Ruth Rendell”

ElCicco#CBR4Review#31: Asta’s Book by Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell)

Sometimes one needs a little mystery, and Barbara Vine/Ruth Rendell rarely disappoints. Asta’s Book was just what I was looking for — a murder, a missing person, mistaken identity, and modern-day characters trying to sift out the truth from the family history.

The primary narrator is Ann Eastbrook, granddaughter of Asta Westerby. The title Asta’s Book refers to a collection of diaries that Asta wrote starting in 1905 when she was a new immigrant to London from Denmark. In 1905, she was still learning English and so she kept her diaries in Danish. She has two sons and is pregnant, hoping for a girl. Asta kept her diaries until her death in 1968. Curiously, none of her children or husband knew of her diaries until after she died, when her daughter Swanny found them, recognized their literary value and had them published. Asta’s Book became a runaway best seller, with several volumes in print and more to come. When Swanny dies in 1988 at the age of 83, her niece Ann inherits the rights to Asta’s diaries.

The narration switches back and forth between Asta’s diary entries, events in Swanny’s life in the 1960s and Ann’s situation in 1988. Ann, as custodian of the diaries, is approached by news outlets, relatives and a former friend regarding the diaries and their contents. As a result, she is drawn into an investigation of an unsolved murder and missing persons case from 1905. She is also drawn into a family mystery regarding Swanny’s origins.

It’s a fine mystery with unexpected twists and admirable attention to historical details. The character Asta is as fascinating to the reader of this mystery as she is to the fictional readers of the diaries. She is a smart woman, dissatisfied with her marriage and often brutal and heartless to those around her, particularly her husband Rasmus and maid Hansine. Outwardly, Asta played by society’s rules. But inwardly, through the diaries in Danish that she expected no one to read, she expressed derision and pessimism about the individuals and events that were part of her life. This is a good choice for the murder mystery crowd.

Karo’s #CBR4 Review #10: The Vault by Ruth Rendell

I’m a creature of habit, and I do need my quick crime fix. Although her last offerings were a bit disappointing, I picked up The Vault in my Lovely Library, looking forward to lazy mornings on the sofa with my book while the washing up waited patiently in the kitchen. It is a quick read, and the quality of the writing is exactly as you would expect from someone who must be a little old lady now, publishing a book each year. It’s hurried, but then that’s how I was reading it.

Based on the happenings in an earlier Rendell novel, A Sight for Sore Eyes, the novel opens with the discovery of four dead bodies in a coal hole of a nice villa in a nice London neighbourhood. Inspector Wexford, now retired, is spending some time in the capital, meets an old colleague and is asked to advise on the mystery. The problem of bringing in Wexford solved, all is back to normal. He walks around town, talks to people, is still very much in love with his wife, struggles with his feelings towards the daughter who’s not his favourite, and is pretty much the same old policeman we know and love (and got ever so slightly bored with). The case itself is not particularly exciting, as always, it’s the characters that make the book interesting, although they, too, have become set pieces. A bit more narrative exploration would have been good.

And there are the usual things that bug me: The fact that each case or problem is mirrored in the behaviour of Wexford’s children or friends. The increasingly embarrassing use of markers to place the novel in time (Do we really need to know what movies were shown in cinemas when this is supposed to take place? Great research there…). And, this time, the way you can trace how and when the author fell out of love with one of her characters: At first, the inspector on the case is portrayed as a great guy, until suddenly Rendell gets increasingly mean in her descriptions of him. It might be a clever way of showing how someone as used to his old ways as Wexford reacts to a new environment and working with new people. Or it might just be a case of Rendell changing her mind about him in the middle of writing. Overall, Rendell’s novels are still a great deal better than most crime fiction, although if you’re new to her books, do start with the older ones. It’s not necessary to have read A Sight For Sore Eyes in order to understand The Vault, but it’s a much better book.

ElCicco#CBR4Review#25: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl is a twisted psycho-thriller/mystery that is hard to put down once you start reading. If you have heard anything about this novel, you know that very little about the plot can be told without spoiling the story. In short, this is about Nick Dunne and Amy Elliott Dunne. Both professional writers, they meet in New York in the late ’90s, fall in love, and get married. Amy’s parents are psychologists who have written a series of very popular children’s books featuring the character “Amazing Amy” based on their daughter. Amy is wealthy, intelligent and beautiful. Handsome, witty Nick is from a working class midwestern family. His father, now suffering from Alzheimers in a nursing home, was abusive to his wife and twins Nick and Go (Margo). When Nick and Amy lose their writing jobs in the recession and Go tells Nick that his mother is dying of cancer, the couple moves to Nick’s home town, New Carthage, MO. Go and Nick use Amy’s money to open a bar in the struggling town, where the recession has taken a toll. Then, on their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy disappears. It looks like foul play, but there is no body, no ransom note.

The rest of the story really can’t be explained without spoiling it. The plot gets gritty and disturbing as Flynn takes you inside the minds of critically flawed characters and a genuine sociopath. The resolution to the story is downright creepy but brilliant. I remember feeling the same way after reading some of Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine’s and PD James’ novels, which likewise feature brutal crimes and disturbed but very intelligent perpetrators.

Flynn takes the reader on a roller coaster ride.  You will think you have it figured out, only to be surprised by Flynn’s brilliant plot twists. I like the way she constructs the narrative, alternating between Nick’s point of view in real time and entries from Amy’s diary. One of the side themes in the story is journalism, particularly TV journalism, with its sensationalization of crime stories. Every reporter is trying to get the scoop but brings his/her own prejudices to the story. By the same token, Flynn manipulates her readers’ opinions of characters throughout the book. It can be unsettling, and I loved it. Flynn’s creativity and imagination are stunning. This is an excellent summer book choice.

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