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on 28 August 2017
I first read my mum’s copy of this book when I was a teenager and it made a real impression on me. I guess it was the first psychological thriller I ever read and opened up for me a whole new perspective on the crime novel. I initially read this at a time when I was just becoming interested in human nature and what makes people tick and A Judgement in Stone had a pretty profound effect on me. It has been a book I have never forgotten and I wanted to see if, twenty-odd years later, it would still have the same impact on me.

‘Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write.’

This first line blew me away when I first read A Judgement in Stone and blew me away again. You really can’t beat a killer first line and Rendell pretty much nails it here. This was the first opening line I fell in love with and it made me realise what an impact the initial line of a book can have. It raises so many questions – why would being unable to read and write result in the murder of a whole family? – and it perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the novel. This was the first time I had ever read a crime novel in which the perpetrator is known from the outset. From the very start we know who committed the crime, how the murders were carried out and when Eunice was arrested. This book is all about the why and it makes for a fascinating read as, let’s face it, who doesn’t want to know the motivations and thought processes behind those who commit murder?

A Judgement in Stone is very much a character study. We get to know Eunice Parchman in a way that those around her don’t as we are privy to her secrets, thoughts and feelings. She is a character that has little to no redeeming features. I love a character I dislike and quite often I do find something in them with which I sympathise, however, I’m not sure I do in Eunice.

Eunice isn’t the only dislikeable character. Her one and only friend Joan Smith is, quite frankly, unhinged and the Coverdale family are snobbish and assured of what they consider to be their elevated status. The only character I had any real positive feelings towards was Melinda Coverdale. This melting pot of difficult, disagreeable characters is one of the things that makes A Judgement in Stone such a great read for me.

While the characters are central to the story, Rendell also uses the decisions we make and the actions we take as a central theme. There is the overriding sense of ‘if only’ throughout the book and it gets you questioning how much control we have over our own destiny. Every action each character takes results in a trajectory that will end in their eventual downfall.

‘In that moment … an invisible thread lassoed each of them, bound them one to another, related them more closely than blood.’

Rendell also fully considers the impact of illiteracy on the psyche and self-esteem of a person along with the views that others have of them. I remember how A Judgement in Stone made me re-think about my ability to read and I found myself considering this ability all over again while reading it for the second time. How we take reading for granted and use it without even thinking about it, how books and the written word open us up to experiences and emotions we have never had and how it can make us rounded individuals by aiding us in considering things from a different perspective. Rendell also made me really consider how those who are unable to read and write navigate a world in which the written word is so dominant;

‘The advantage of being illiterate is that one achieves an excellent visual memory and almost total recall.’

Rendell’s prose is considered and stunning and had me underlining so many sections of text. She has a real way with words as she manages to perfectly craft sentences that set the dark and catastrophic tone and you find yourself re-reading sentences more than once in order to fully appreciate their beauty and meaning. First published in 1977, there are some expressions and words that are quite shocking and offensive to our modern sensibilities but they clearly give a feel for the time and the less politically correct world we live in.

A Judgement in Stone is one hell of a book and I enjoyed it as much, years later, the second time around. It stands the test of time and, in my very humble opinion, is a classic. If you enjoy psychological thrillers and haven’t read this book get it on your bookshelf as soon as possible.
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on 5 October 2015
This is the first Ruth Rendell book I have read and it will not be the last. I was impressed with all the characters, the detail she went into to bring them alive and the hint of comedy also. I do not usually like crime books but this story captivated me.
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VINE VOICEon 15 October 2009
The premise of the story is well set out in other reviews. This is my first Rendell novel although I have read some Barbara Vine stuff. This is excellent and she has gone up higher in my estimation. Some other reviewers do not give full credit to her dry wit having Eunice and Joan dressed, 'like standard issue prison warderesses' and her description of the local Church zealots who, 'were delivering the Epistle....to famine-stricken people too weak to resist'.

For me, the descent into 'madness' by Joan was a slightly false note and, with hindsight, the modus operandi does take a bit of believing. Once again we were in Ms Rendell's comfort zone of an upper/middle class Suffolk family, rural, white, all super educated but this is still top class British crime writing and highly recommended.
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on 5 April 2016
Didn't like any of the characters - but that didn't prevent me from thoroughly enjoying. Most unusual book.
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on 24 May 2015
I am a big fan of Ruth Rendell. However, somehow the second main character doesn't seem quite believable in the setting. Every other aspect of the story fits well.
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on 8 August 2015
Quite possibly my favourite RR. So different in that we are told up front, whodunnit and why. Sheer genius.
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on 27 April 2017
Interesting vignette of life and mores of a bygone age - but still an excellent tale in the Ruth Rendell style - gripping, easy to read yet satisfying but chilling! Go on, treat yourself!
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on 30 November 2017
This is my favourite Ruth Rendell book. I’ve read it so many times and although you know from the beginning of the book how it ends, it is still a treat to delve into the mind of Edith Parchman.
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on 9 August 2017
I found it quite different from Ruth Rendell's other books but still totally absorbing with an underlying dry humour in places. Less of a who dunnit, more of a 'how it happened' but really enjoyable none the less. The stage play is so true to the book and would really reccomend seeing it.
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on 2 October 2017
Really enjoyed this. Very disturbing.
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