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4.5 out of 5 stars
A Fatal Inversion
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 14 August 2011
When I get picky about Vine/Rendell's recent works it is because I look back at novels like these and long for a return to this sort of form.
The book is set in the fabled long hot summer of 1976 it captures that freaky heatwave perfectly. Most of the action takes place in a large remote house deep in East Anglia, unexpectedly bequeathed to Adam, a young student. By a quirk of fate he cancels his planned holiday to Greece and spends the summer in the house with a bunch of friends and hangers on. They plunder the house for antiques and sell them to fund a hedonistic life style. Into their midst they take Zosie, a profoundly disturbed girl and her actions lead to terrible and tragic results. Years later, when Adam and his friends have become upstanding members of society, another quirk of fate reopens the past with all its consequences, To say more might spoil your enjoyment and suspense. I thoroughly recommend it especially for a holiday read. Set thirty plus years ago it still exerts a powerful thrall and does not suffer by being dated. Spellbinding.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on 1 July 2006
A Fatal Inversion is among Barbara Vine's most creepy and atmospheric novels. From the start of the first chapter, death casts its ominous shadow over the entire novel, when Adam, Rufus and Shiva, now three grown men in their thirties are forced to confront something terrible and tragic that took place ten years previously, when they lived together in a commune at Wyvis Hall in Suffolk in the sweltering summer of 1976.

The group of young people who come to inhabit `Ecalpemos', a Georgian mansion, inherited from his Great Uncle by 19-year-old Adam Verne-Smith, are by no means likeable characters - hedonistic, selfish, arrogant, manipulative, weak - yet you become intensely caught up in their world and the landscape of their individual psychologies. Then the wheel of fate is set in motion with the arrival of the seemingly mysterious, disturbed and child-like Zosie. Barbara Vine writes about dysfunctional individuals in a unique way that imbues the mundane with chilling significance.

As ever, with Barbara Vine, buildings and landscape take on a dark and sinister aspect, even as the hot summer sun of '76 beats down, and Vine's Suffolk countryside is at times as menacing and uncanny as that of M.R. James. More than just a crime and mystery novel, this book makes you think about human conscience, lack of it, deception, innocence, guilt, and the hard truth that in life, the amoral do not always get their just deserts.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
I had already read a couple of Barbara Vine novels before reading this one, and although I thought the others were good, for me this is the masterpiece: enthralling and unputdownable. The plot is totally original and as you put the pieces together you realise how well crafted the storyline is. The ending is fantastic. A must read.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 2 August 2007
Masterfully written, this is the story of a group of young students who gather to spend a long, blazing hot summer vacation at Wyvis Hall in Suffolk, the recently inherited house of medical student Adam Verne-Smith. This hypnotic tale is told mostly through flashback, the threads pulling together gradually and inexorably, weaving the past and present towards a stunning climax. Menace is present from the opening line to the startling denouement. Vine has created a living, breathing world as only she can; this tale of greed and frailty, disaster and triumph places human nature under the microscope and while none of the characters is particularly likeable you are drawn into their worlds as the tale unfolds. The story will imprint itself on your mind long after you have read the final page. One of my Desert Island must haves.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
As always, writing as Barbara Vine seems to give Ruth Rendell much more space and time to develop a setting and its characters. Yet there seems no let-up in tension as a result, so it must be a matter of establishing the pace she wishes to travel at, and how she will arrive there.

Throughout most of this book we know that a young woman has been murdered, but we do not know which one from among the two in the back story it might be. A clever plot device, as it gets your attention immediately and you are unwilling to miss a word in case it gives a clue to identity.

In the end you know that justice has not been done, but at the same time someone has been justly punished. A riveting and well-wrought read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 30 January 2011
Don't start on this book, if you have a lot to do, because you will find it very difficult to put it down. From the beginning Barbara Vine builds tension and suspense, starting with the discovery of two bodies, a young woman and a baby, buried together in a shallow grave at Wyvis Hall. It soon becomes clear that one-time owner of the hall, Adam, and his friends Rufus, Shiva, Vivien and Zosie must know something about this - but what do they know, to whom do the bodies belong, why are they there? From opening chapter to final page, Barbara Vine keeps us turning the pages. The mystery unfolds slowly, via the recollections of the three men - the women's voices are absent, and of course we soon realise the reason this must be.

I really enjoyed the mystery, but if I have a criticism, it is that Vine's central characters failed to convince me - somehow this felt like an older person's vision of what wild young things got up to, rather than what being young in the mid 70s was really like. Even so, I have to rate it the full five stars - this is vintage Vine, and I'm at a loss as to how I missed reading this one first time round.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 11 March 2014
I always like Barbara Vine, but this I loved. A collection of characters, none entirely likeable, but some definitely more flawed than others, drift together during the long hot summer of 1976 and briefly settle in beautiful, secluded country house, recently inherited by Adam. As they arrive at Wyvis Hall - first Adam's friend Rufus, then the waif Zosie, and finally Shiva and Vivien, loaded with new-age ideas, plans for a commune and Bach flower remedies - relationships shift and become toxic. Real life inevitably begins to intrude on their drowsy idyll, and the group's half-hearted attempts to exclude reality and delay consequences begin to fail.
Told in a double time-frame as what is left of the denizens of 'Ecalpemos' look on in horror as secrets they had thought safely buried are uncovered some ten years after that legendarily hot summer, 'A Fatal Inversion' is both a tense thriller and a meditation on the shifting nature of love, friendship and guilt.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Barbara Vine is a master of the psychological thriller. Her characterisation is second to none and you soon feel you know her characters as though you have met them. She does not rely on sensationalism to create the tension. This comes from the wizardry of her writing. I love this book and would recommend it to anyone who appreciates first class writing combined with first class plotting.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Simply the best work of Ruth Rendell aka Barbara Vine. A superb plot and an excellent BBC mini-series screenplay. An absolute must...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Staggeringly brilliant. The group which finds itself at Wyvis Hall is an indiscriminate mix of characters whose encounter by chance determines the fate of each. Full blooded in every way, the quirks of each individual, their flaws and aspirations form the backdrop of a story which only Barbara Vine could concoct. It is chilling in its portrayal of fear, destruction and the cost of survival. The intellect of the characters which make up this set does not protect them from disaster, the guilt they carry defines their later relationships, keeps them connected despite agreements never to meet again after the events of a decade ago. A sensational denouement. Brilliant author now lost to us.
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