02 October 2009

A dark-adapted eye: book review

A Dark Adapted Eye A Dark Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Barbara Vine is a pen-name of Ruth Rendell, one of the most prolific authors of crime fiction today. Though the division is not absolute, the books she writes under her own name tend to be whodunits, and those she writes as Barbara Vine tend to be whydunits. This book fits the pattern. Right from the first page we know whodunit: Vera Hillyard was hanged for murder in 1950. Nearly forty years later a writer, Daniel Stewart, approaches people who knew Vera Hillyard as he wants to write a book, a reappraisal of the case.

The story is told by Vera's niece Faith, one of those approached by the author, as she remembers her life as a young girl visiting her aunts, and the events and tangled family relationships that eventually led to murder. The thing that strikes me most about Vine/Rendall's writing is that the characters have such depth to them, or at least those who are central to the action. In some crime novels, the plot is everything, and the characters tend to be almost incidental and one-dimensional. Here the characters are all described as seen by the narrator, and so through her own relationships with them. I find it hard to remember my own life in such detail, much less create one for someone else. Ruth Rendell manages to do it again and again.

Recommended for those who enjoy murder mysteries, with the emphasis on the mystery, rather than on the details of the murder: no descriptions of squeamish cops being nauseated at the autopsy, which seem to be almost obligatory in the current crop of crime novels.

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1 comment:

CherryPie said...

It sounds like one I would enjoy then. I much prefer the mystery to gory details.


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