Thursday, January 26, 2017

Blame Her! She Started It!

My blog today is going to take a bit of a backward glance as I introduce you to an author who was one of the greatest influences in my early life as a mystery writer. That author is the late Ruth Rendell and, although I have read every single thing she ever wrote, the book I am recommending today is The Water’s Lovely.

Way back in the 1980s I knew I wanted to be a novelist. I had no idea how one went about making this a career choice. I decided I wanted to focus on Christian publishers and so I wrote The Josiah Files.

Set two hundred years in the future, it was my look at the future of the church and culture. It remains the only book I haven’t re-edited and put up as an eBook for your reading pleasure. I guess the reason for this is that if I were writing that book today, it would be a very different book. So much has changed in my life and my faith, so I have left it there, as a testament to what I used to believe. But, at the time, I wrote what my heart told me to write.

(Oh, here’s a little aside - I like to say that I invented the eReader. It’s true! I did! Sort of. In my book I had people reading books and newspapers from what I called hand-readers—small devices that they carried with them, and to which books and newspapers were remotely "sent" to them. Wifi as we have come to know it, hadn't been invented yet.)

After the book came out and no more book contracts were forthcoming in that planned trilogy (another story), I decided that I needed to change genres completely. Because, you see, I always read mysteries. I have always read mysteries. Even as a child. My favorite mystery writer during the time of my early writing career, was Ruth Rendell. I had my name on the library list long before her next Inspector Wexford novel was set to release. (And sometimes I was even first!)

I read her Inspector Wexford books. I devoured her non-series psychological suspense. I immersed myself in her books written under her Barbara Vine pseudonym. And her short stories. I love her short stories.

A few weeks ago I saw her book The Water’s Lovely in a second hand store. I immediately picked it up. It had been years since I'd read that book, and with my old brain, it would might just be like reading a new book, I reasoned. Well, the second reading has been just as satisfying as the first. I have decided to re-read all of her books and stories.

I love the way she gets into the minutia and detail of every character she describes. I can turn to any page of the book and give you an example. Here’s just one:

She was a little thin woman of forty-something with stick-like legs and bony feet thrust into blue flip-flops. The flip-flops which would have been passable with a sundress, looked very strange with a check tweed skirt and a red sweater…

There is an old crime in The Water’s Lovely.  Ismay and Ismay’s mother Beatrix believe that young Heather, Ismay’s sister, was responsible for the death of her step-father when the young woman was just a child. It was one of those family secrets that no one ever talked about. Not once. I am not giving a spoiler here, all of this is in the first chapter.

Now the sisters are grown and living in the first floor of an apartment, and their mother and aunt lived above them.

Rendell goes on from there, in her twisting turn way of delving into each character’s psyche backstory, motivation, fears and loves.

There is nothing light or whimsical about a Ruth Rendell story, and yet she achieves a certain Stephen King like reliance on quirky characters to people her story. In this story, that honor goes to Marion, and to a lesser extent Beatrix.

Just to whet your appetite, here is the first line of the book -

Weeks went by when Ismay never thought of it at all...

Here's an interesting NPR tribute to her. Click here.

What are some of your favorite Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine books?

NEXT TIME: Singer/songwriter Steve Bell, long overdue in this blog of mine, and his newest CD Where the Good Way Lies.


  1. I enjoyed this post. Ruth Rendell is one of my favorites too, but I haven't read every one of her books as you have. I missed The Water's Lovely, but am adding it to TBR list. Thanks for reminding me how much I enjoy this writer's books.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to post, Sandy. I'm sure you will love The Water's Lovely.