Review

The Water's Lovely

by Ruth Rendell

Seventy-seven-year-old Ruth Rendell is still writing haunting,
suspenseful, riveting and sharply limned novels. In her newest
effort, THE WATER'S LOVELY, she tells a tale of love, murder, lies,
madness and redemption. Two sets of sisters share a renovated house
where a murder took place. Pamela and Beatrix reside in the
upstairs flat, while Ismay and Heather, Beatrix's daughters, are
downstairs. For 13 years everyone except Pamela has lived in the
shadow of a death that has driven Beatrix into madness and haunted
Ismay to distraction.

At 13, Heather was a mysterious young girl who could be found
eavesdropping in the shadows. One day Heather sees her 15-year-old
sister in the arms of their stepfather, Guy. Ismay has no idea that
she's been "caught" as she continues to flirt and play "the game"
with this sleazy man. She thinks she's in love and does everything
she can to lure him to bed. He never comes.

Time passes, and Beatrix takes Ismay shopping. Guy is ill and in
bed. Heather is supposed to be at a friend's house, but that date
was canceled at the last minute. This leaves her in the house alone
with the man she loathes. Heather may appear cold and distant, but
she has a healthy intuition. Guy calls to her and asks her to bring
him something while he sits in the bathtub. Since she and her
sister have their own bathroom, Heather was never in that one. It's
strange for her to be standing there in this "forbidden" room
handing Guy the shampoo. She's ready to leave when he invites her
to join him. Without thinking, she grabs his feet and pulls him
under the water until he's dead.

When the others return, Heather alerts them to Guy's dead body but
claims she doesn't know what happened. Beatrix has enough strength
to protect Heather by concocting an alibi for her: she had been
shopping with her mother and sister but decided not to enter the
shop. The police buy it and rule Guy's death a suicide. Almost
immediately after things get relatively quiet, "the knowledge" (or
lack of it) drives Beatrix "over the edge into the shadow of
schizophrenia."

None of them ever talk about what happened or what Heather's part
may have been. Ismay is plagued with thoughts about her sister and
whether or not she is capable of murder, but never says a word. The
girls grow up and go to school. Heather becomes a chef and Ismay an
accountant. Ismay then falls in love --- blindly in love,
passionately in love --- with Andrew Campbell-Sedge, a very good
looking man who nevertheless has a hidden Jekyll-Hyde personality
and is capable of doing great harm.

Andrew loathes Heather and calls her "that little gorgon" who he
must put up with since she lives with Ismay. Then Heather falls in
love with Edmund Litton, an overqualified nurse who works in the
hospice where she's the chef. Andrew is furious; he wants Heather
out of the house and is afraid "this male nurse" might move in with
her. He complains and challenges Ismay with the threat of
leaving.

Both the knowledge of this new relationship and Andrew's constant
threats throw Ismay into the vortex of guilt, confusion, fear,
responsibility, and what, if anything, her role should be if she is
to protect her future brother-in-law. She can't tell him, though
she does makes a tape just in case she has to inform someone. She
decides to hide the tape and forget about it. Andrew leaves her,
and she doesn't recover from his loss. For a very long time she
"fades away into some parallel universe" where she tortures herself
over and over.

In the hands of Rendell, the story doesn't end there. Additional
characters make their mark in these peoples' lives, and other
murders touch them all in strange ways. She always imbues her plots
with fire and seamlessly merges the tension of the events into
believable circumstances that keep readers apace. Another strength
that supports the architecture of her books is that her characters
not only fit their roles but also are stationed in their place. As
the tale unfolds, readers instinctively know the book wouldn't work
without this supporting cast. In addition to fleshing out the
story, Rendell gives "life" to her players. She gets her
inspiration from being observant and transforms what she sees or
senses into innately convincing mysteries. Don't miss this
one!

Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on January 24, 2011

The Water's Lovely
by Ruth Rendell

  • Publication Date: August 12, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 0307388018
  • ISBN-13: 9780307388018