Customer Review

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Just watch the tragedy unfold..., 2 Jan 2009
This review is from: The Lake of Darkness (Mass Market Paperback)
I stumbled upon Ruth Rendell in my teens and, with the exception of Rendell's Inspector Wexford series, I have persistently returned to her novels. To me, Rendell is a genius! Judging by the synopses on the covers of her books, most of her plots seem a trifle bland, not to say boring. However, once you give it a go, you get sucked into her stories.

All her psychological novels have got one decisive feature: She creates protagonists that on the surface have got absolutely nothing in common with each other. As her stories unravel, the author creates a web of fateful connections between her protagonists, and in the end all are entangled in a web of (often) unintended and horrific consequences. The "Lake of Darkness" is a case in point.

Following guidance from his erstwhile university friend Tim Sage, Martin, a young accountant from a well to-do family, wins a fortune in the football pools. Due to philanthropic impulses, Martin decides to put his wealth to good use and draws up a list of deserving people, who he considers to be in need of financial help. Amongst the beneficiaries is Lena, the family's former, mentally - ill cleaner, who lives together with her son, Finn, in a shabby London bed-sit. Finn is a sociopath, who not only works as a handyman, but also as a contract killer. When Martin contacts Finn with the good news, Finn completely misunderstands Martin's philanthropic motive and assumes that Martin's "gift" is intended to pay for his services as a killer. Meanwhile, all the reader can do is follow the tragedy unfold as the two worlds collide.

Just like Martin, the educated and professionally successful bachelor, who has only recently moved out from a somewhat (sterile) parental home in order to move into an up-market (sterile) flat, Finn lives in an isolated world, defined by a belief in the supernatural, his own invincibility and his mentally deranged mother. Whilst Finn is a loner by choice, all of Martin's social relationships are of a more or less functional nature. By the same token, it is exactly this very isolation that is the trigger behind Martin's irrational choices, above all his almost childish devotion to his girlfriend, Francesca. Both characters simply occupy different social spaces, which in the end collide. The motif of social isolation and its consequences permeates many Rendell novels and "Lake of Darkness" is no exception. In fact, it is to a large extent due to this underlying isolation that Rendell's characters assume deeply tragic qualities.

Apart from her qualities as a writer of psychological novels, Rendell's stories should be viewed as historical documents, sketching the development of London and the home counties. "Lake of Darkness", for instance, is set against the background of acute housing shortages and the onset of the property boom in the capital during the 1970s and 1980s.

Whilst I have to admit that the plot of the story is at times slightly unbelievable (hence only four stars), "Lake of Darkness" is a gripping book, deeply tragic, full of wonderful prose and poignant dialogue, with sometimes even comic attributes.
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