The Water’s Lovely by Ruth Rendell
The most recent book of the month for my book group was The Water’s Lovely by Ruth Rendell. The author, Ruth Barbara Rendell, Baroness Rendell of Babergh, CBE, who also wrote under the pseudonym, Barbara Vine was an acclaimed English crime writer, known for her many psychological thrillers and murder mysteries and above all for Inspector Wexford. Although this is a genre I enjoy, I had never read any novels by Ruth Rendell, so I was pleased to have an excuse to read The Water’s Lovely. This is a stand alone novel and not one involving Rendell’s most famous character, Inspector Wexford.
The story starts about a dozen or so years ago when Ismay’s younger sister Heather, then aged 13, drowned their stepfather in the bathtub while Ismay and her mum were out shopping. Or at least that’s what Ismay assumes: she and mum have been acting on the principle that, if you do not talk something through, then it is easier to deny it. Besides, the cops and everyone else assumed it was an accident. Now Ismay and Heather live in the downstairs of the family home; upstairs, mum, driven bonkers by the death and its aftermath, is tended by their Aunt Pat.
Back to the present day, Ismay’s boyfriend Andrew is a snobbish spoiled brat, and psychologically abusive of her; nonetheless, she’s completely infatuated with him. Heather, by contrast, has just begun a wonderful relationship with Edmund. Ironically, Edmund only ever asked her out on a date in order to dodge the ghastly Marion, whom his hypochondriac mother was trying to match make with him. Almost every character in the novel is self-serving or self-engrossed, a ninny, or is pompously self-deluding, weak, or airheads, or even downright criminal and potentially murderous. Furthermore, by the end of the novel, all of those characters, from deficient to vile, get what they wanted, or at least some part of it.The only people for whom there are no happy endings are the two we like and respect: one of whom is a murderess.
I found this book a bit depressing in its portrayal of the characters. The Water’s Lovely started out fine, lots of promising elements including a long-ago mysterious death hidden by the family and never discussed, a sociopathic blackmailer, the foreshadowing of old people to be bumped off for money, an incriminating cassette tape moving from hand to hand, as well as an emotionally abusive relationship escalating, a killer on the loose and a loving couple whose happiness might be destroyed by an explosive secret. Still, none of the strands of plot fully developed. The end twist did not surprise me either.
I am sure I will read other crime novels by Ruth Rendell in the future, but as an introduction to this author, The Water’s Lovely was a bit of a disappointment.