By far my favorite book of 2012 (even though I read it in 2013). It is a strong, fierce thriller that combines social commentary and suspense…all in one well-written story. It is no surprise to me that Ruth Rendell is still writing strong, highly literary pieces of fiction. She is one of the leaders of the mystery genre, especially British mysteries. Writing here as Barbara Vine, Rendell writes what I think is one of her best in years…lending truth to the adage that some things improves with age.
The story here starts off in 2011 with a sister and her brother, Grace and Andrew, sharing a home in London. They divide the living space of the house equally, a situation which works fine until the brother’s lover, James, comes to live with them. James sets off a series of events that neither Grace nor Andrew will ever recover from. While coping, Grace begins reading a long-lost manuscript, never published because its storyline includes unwed mothers and homosexual characters in the 1920s. That’s when a completely different part of the story takes over. Or at least we THINK it’s different…because it is set in the post-WWI era. Soon, correlations between Grace’s modern-day dilemmas and the historical plot become evident.
The historical storyline revolves around a sister, Maud, the youngest child in a very conservative Bristol family, who gets herself pregnant. After telling her family, they want to send her away. But, her brother John has a different idea. He is homosexual and aware that he will never be able to lead a respectable life as a gay man, so he and Maud begin living together as husband and wife…in name only…so that the child does not seem illegitimate.
Both storylines are interesting and compelling but the historical one just captivates the reader with twists and turns that the reader never expects (or at least I didn’t). I found both tales together a great commentary on how things regarding sexuality and homosexuality have changed…yet how some things have stayed the same through the centuries.