I've posted about Ruth Rendell before--I've read almost all of her thrillers, police procedurals, and pseudonomous quasi-literary books (which she writes under the name Barbara Vine). Of all her books, the Vine ones are the most impressive, the procedurals the most exciting, and I loved the last Vine book, The Minotaur, a restrained gothic about a big scary house full of weirdos.
Her latest, which I got from Amazon.co.uk (it's not out here yet) is called The Water's Lovely. At first I was very excited about this novel, as it contains several details germane to our personal lives--a house, like the one we're buying, that has been divided into two apartments; a house, like the one we're leaving, that someone was murdered in; and a bathroom that contains the exact same Bonnard print that ours does. And the opening pages are quite exciting.
But the book disappoints. The mystery (did what's-her-name really kill that dude in the tub?) isn't very mysterious, the intersecting story lines are static and not terribly interesting, and the characters are awful.
Let me clarify this, because Rendell is sometimes superb at writing about unappealing people. Her best books, like The Minotaur, are populated by fully articulated characters, their peculiarities part of a pattern, their often unpredictable actions driven by powerful and complex motivations. But sometimes she seems to be phoning it in, and you get the baser part of her soul--she is prone to overdosing on the vain, the vulgar, the low-class, and the greedy, their shallow thoughts flatly stamped onto the page.
For the life of me, I don't know what she gets out of it. Somebody good enough to write Anna's Book or Road Rage (a terrific procedural--see the B-List sidebar) is willing to give us a lame menagerie like the one in The Water's Lovely? The worst part is that, in the end, (spoiler alert--here, I'll print it in white so you have to select the text to read it) all the people you hate the most end up getting happily married to one another, and the only two people you like get killed by a tsunami on the last page. I think this is the worst ending I've ever seen from her.
That said, she's disappointed me before, then come roaring back with something great. Perhaps these little thrillers have a purpose--the discharge of excess misanthropy, maybe, freeing the author to give her real characters the humanity they deserve. Meanwhile, I don't recommend this new book--though I have to admit, I did read to the end.
EDIT: Hey, P.S., this is our 100th post!