Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Face of Trespass

I'm still not sure why Ruth Rendell's editors asked her to use a pseudonym for her later psychological thrillers.  The Barbara Vine books are a bit deeper, and maybe more likely to be written from a female POV, but the tone is similar.  Who committed a crime doesn't seem as important as why, her narrators may not be reliable, and there's often a twist at the end.

Rendell frames The Face of Trespass with brief scenes featuring a newly elected MP.  At an alumni function, an old friend mentions a schoolmate of theirs, Gray Lanceton, who published a novel and is now living in the MP's district.  Lanceton is living in semi-squalor, minding another classmate's home (rurally placed yet within a few miles of London) and experiencing complete writers' block in the wake of a breakup.  Drusilla wanted Gray to kill her husband; he refused, ending the affair and his ability to write.  He's scraping by on ever-decreasing royalties when his mother's second husband calls him to France to attend her deathbed.  This trip, along with a promise to watch a dog for a vacationing family friend, lead him to call Drusilla for help and eventually to his arrest for the murder of Drusilla's husband in Gray's home.  We know he didn't (couldn't have) committed the murder, but who did?

I enjoyed Rendell's depiction of a tatty, squat-filled, 1970s London, made hazier by the obvious unraveling of her narrator's mental state.  The murder's identity is obvious, and we watch Gray walk through a London neighborhood miles from the murder site.  So why does The Face of Trespass work so well?  It's because Rendell so tightly plotted her mystery, and because the dread I felt as I saw an innocent man stumbling towards a certain murder conviction.

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