STARRED REVIEW
November 18, 2015

The danger living upstairs

By Ruth Rendell
Review by

Just after well-known British mystery writer Ruth Rendell died in May of this year, at the age of 85, her life and talents were described in the media with words like “brilliant,” “discomfiting” and “challenging.” Readers who’ve long been gripped by Rendell’s imaginative crime fiction, however, knew that already. From her popular Chief Inspector Wexford series with such hallmarks as the top-notch An Unkindness of Ravens and Not in the Flesh, to standalone classics like A Dark Adapted Eye (as Barbara Vine) and A Judgment in Stone, right up to her last, Dark Corners, the author’s unsettling prose has always attracted legions of readers.

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Just after well-known British mystery writer Ruth Rendell died in May of this year, at the age of 85, her life and talents were described in the media with words like “brilliant,” “discomfiting” and “challenging.” Readers who’ve long been gripped by Rendell’s imaginative crime fiction, however, knew that already. From her popular Chief Inspector Wexford series with such hallmarks as the top-notch An Unkindness of Ravens and Not in the Flesh, to standalone classics like A Dark Adapted Eye (as Barbara Vine) and A Judgment in Stone, right up to her last, Dark Corners, the author’s unsettling prose has always attracted legions of readers.

Rendell’s final novel, her 66th, achieves the same high quality of work and complexity of character that have been typical of her fiction. Dark Corners indeed visits the dark corners so familiar in her other works: an eerie creepiness disguised as something plain and innocuous; a dark character or two who ominously invade the reader’s consciousness; that page the reader almost doesn’t want to turn.

Carl Martin is a newly published writer with a lovely woman in his life, and he has just inherited a home in an upscale London neighborhood. Who could ask for more? But Carl makes a big mistake—he decides to take in a tenant for the upstairs flat. It sounds harmless, at least to Carl, but renter Dermot is anything but. In true Rendell style, the everyday and innocent gets pushed into the dark and disturbing, as Dermot’s invasion into Carl’s life is relentless, turning it—and the reader’s comfort zone—prickly and unbearable. What follows is a descent into blackmail, murder and drunken oblivion. As one character quietly tells Carl: “I can see you’re suffering, but there is a way to end this, and you know what that is.”

Other writers might have ended with the story duly resolved, with the circle of crime and punishment neatly closed. But Rendell’s clever nightmares usually have something trailing off after the proper ending, so we aren’t quite finished. So it is with Rendell’s last engrossing novel.

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Dark Corners

Dark Corners

By Ruth Rendell
Scribner
ISBN 9781501119422

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