Thursday, October 29, 2015

Dark Corners

I hate when I only start to read a writer's work upon learning of that person's death.  I can't say I do it all the time but it happens more than I would like it to.  I just made it under the wire and started to read Ruth Rendell last year (though I had been picking up used copies of her work for a long time, I hadn't read any of her work) and died in May.  I knew her books would be good (not a bold prediction, I know) but didn't know where to start and her Inspector Wexford series did not appeal to me.  I love English police procedurals but the primitive dowsing method I sometimes use to figure out what to read always pointed away from Wexford.  Then I read a Tweet from one of my favorite writers, John Lanchester:
And with this recommendation, I got my start on Rendell.  [Note:  I don't know how many people do this or if this is blindingly obvious but I get some of my best recommendations on what to read by following on Twitter the writers I like most.  If you don't already do this, try it.]

Ruth Rendell's final novel has just been published and I was lucky enough to read an advanced copy of it.  In Dark Corners a young writer inherits his father's house in London and decides to rent out the top floor so he can live off the rental income and write full time.  A sensible ideal, in theory.  In this case, however, the lodger turns out to be mildly unsavory (of all the tenants from hell stories I can think of, having one who attempts to blackmail his way to rent-free living isn't the worst possibility) and the writer's life begins to crumble.  There's much more to the story but I hate spoilers so I will have to leave it at that.

On the whole Dark Corners is very good.  It feels churlish to criticize the book given the circumstances surrounding its publication (distinguished writer finishes book, turns it in to publisher, has a stroke, then passes away) but I have the feeling that had Rendell lived, she would have tightened up a few minor plot lines.  There are some staggering coincidences in Dark Corners that are tangential to the main story line (terrorism and kidnapping, I'm talking about you) that beggar belief.  Which is unfortunate because there are other coincidences in the book that are essential to the story and handled well.  Still, Dark Corners would be a good place to start reading Ruth Rendell if one were unfamiliar with her work as she has a tremendous back catalog that promises much good future reading.  (So much good reading, in fact, that she published under two names - Ruth Rendell and Barbara Vine.)