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on 25 June 2017
First Ruth Rendell book I have read. Enjoyed the storyline
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on 26 April 2017
Although it is the opening line of A Judgement in Stone which is most widely known and reveals the murderer of the Coverdale family, it is perhaps Ruth Rendell's second sentence which speaks volumes about the murderess:

"There was no real motive and no premeditation; no money was gained and no security."

Written and first published in 1977, this tightly woven and suspenseful slice of eloquence is just over two-hundred-pages in length but it offers an excellent social examination of the class difference so entrenched in England at the time. It takes just nine months of employment at the country house of the upper-middle class Coverdale family for Eunice Parchment to wreak havoc and the ensuing massacre of the four members of the household still resident within the walls of a fine East Anglian village dwelling. A second marriage for both fifty-seven-year old George Coverdale, now managing director of a family firm and forty-two-year old Jacqueline Mont sees the union bestowed with a resident stepson for George in the form of a eccentric and studious Giles. Of the three children from George's first marriage, it is only university student Melinda who returns home in between academic terms. Overwhelmed at the work involved in running the household and doing the daily chores, an advertisement for a housekeeper at Lowfield Hall brings just one reply, itself a bleak letter which does not leave the lady of the house keen to engage the services of Miss Eunice Parchment. A combination of vanity and snobbishness sees Jacqueline engage the services of a plain woman easily ad old as herself it not older and with a humble regard for her lowly position. In fact, so keen does Mrs Coverdale become in offloading her burden of daily chores, within the course of a twenty minimum interview she is pretty much selling the Coverdale home and family to Eunice Parchment.

The inability of Eunice to read or write and her outright hostility to ever admitting it sees her an odds with the tomes that line the bookshelves and the leisure hours of the family. Permitted to a black and white television, free of the need for purchasing a license or filling in a hire purchase form, Eunice is content with her lonely evenings of viewing. Quickly she finds a favourite in an American LAPD cop and devoid of interference she would have no reason to wish for any different life. Sent away to the country in the days of WWII, Eunice's illiteracy is the result of her sporadic schooling and a resulting oddly incurious nature:

"Illiteracy had dried up her sympathy and atrophied her imagination. That, along with what psychologists call affect, the ability to care about the feelings of others, had no place in her make-up."

Contented knitting and "enthralled in innocent childlike excitement" in front of the television, Eunice has no wish to explore the surround area or makes friends. It is the well intentioned Melinda who first raises the treatment of Eunice with her elders and keen to engage the hired help in conversation she quickly makes a nuisance of herself and shatters the tranquility of life at Lowfield Hall. Soon offers to learn to drive and opticians tests are being booked for Eunice and the family seem to go out of their way to interfere and readily subscribing to the inclusivity and harmony within the workplace. It is the breakdown of the television which Eunice has become so reliant upon that sees her branch out from Lowfield Hall and unfortunately encounter local gossip, former prostitute and now religious convert, Mrs Joan Smith. Running the village post office, steaming open mail and seeing in Eunice a potentially malleable and green friend Joan Smith quickly asserts her leverage over the Coverdale's housekeeper. However, Eunice is no fool and understands that she can reap the benefits of this alliance and as the burgeoning union flourishes, the seeds of resentment at her own misfortune in working for such a family and quickly planted and frequently brought out for examination. Rendell does flirt with a deeper examination of the situation perhaps showing how television violence has come to stimulate Eunice's "own latent violence and waves of aggression", but never ponders in true depth thereby leaving the interpretation that it is the meeting of two malicious souls each intent on using a friendship to further their own causes that causes the bloodbath into the denouement. As Detective Chief Superintendent William Vetch from Scotland Yard is sent to deal with the case and quickly institutes,a 'murder room' of the village hall, it falls on his shoulders to dole out blame and retribution. Will a policeman of twenty-six years standing overlook efficient housekeeper and see behind her reticent demeanour? Admittedly it is a close call but in a piece of final Rendellian magnificence, be prepared for a last gasp resolution. As the novel closes the inevitable squabble over the inheritance and whom predeceased whom, leaving Lowfield Hall uninhabited and falling into state of sorry disrepair.

Succinct and enlightening, A Judgement in Stone a masterpiece in eloquence. As the lady of the house when in conversation with her stepson Peter's wife attests:

"I don't want to make a friend of my servant, I want her the way she is, marvellously efficient and unobtrusive. I can tell you, she really knows her job."

"So do boa constrictors," said Audrey

My inspiration for reading this novel was a forthcoming theatre production which was too expensive for me to purchase a ticket for, but in hindsight I think reading the actual text allows readers to appreciate the true range of Ruth Rendell's skills in clearer depth.

Review written by Rachel Hall (@hallrachel)
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on 11 October 2014
Hard going
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on 8 April 2016
V good
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on 5 February 2017
This was written a very long time ago but that did not deter me. It was first published in 1977. I don’t know if it has ever been dramatised on TV, as so many of this celebrated author’s works have been.
You have to make allowances for some obviously very dated references in this book. Why not? When we read the classics of centuries ago it does not worry us!
The murder of 4 family members begins the ‘blurb’ and so does the actual story. In the first sentence, it explains why ‘she’ did it. It is difficult to sustain interest perhaps, when you know the 'whom' from the get go. Yet the build up of explanation for her actions is a terrific tale, as is the ending
It all revolves around the detailed and credible characterisation of Eunice Parchment. Yes, some characters in the story are a bit one-dimensional, but that only makes Eunice more outstanding.
The other element which makes this such a good read is the intricate plotting. I do not think you get that kind of attention to plotting any more (serial killers, titillating gore, revenge, and murderers motivated by bad childhoods or other experiences seem to prevail. They are much easier). In contrast, no wonder Ruth Rendell was such an acclaimed crime novelist and so many of her books were psychological studies in their own right.
If you like her books or the dramatisations of them, and you have not read this one, then I fully recommend it.
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on 29 April 2005
"A judgement in stone" is the story of a crime, and the reasons behind it. All that happens is in direct relation to a secret, Eunice Parchman's secret.
Eunice, the housekeeper of the Coverdale family, seems to be merely a dull woman with an insipid personality. She is cold and quite solemn, but not violent, at least she doesn't seem to be. However, events would prove otherwise, as the reader is informed from the very first page of "A judgement in stone": "Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write".
This is the story of how an apparently normal person is ridden by the all-powering obsession of protecting a secret she deems shameful, that she is illiterate. How far will she go to avoid the disclosure of that fact is something you will learn if you read this book, although you already have a pretty important clue...
On the whole, I can say that I highly recommend this book. The main character isn't likeable ("A stone that breathed was Eunice, as she had always been"), but the story is engaging and well-written. Moreover, the writer managed to write a convincing psychological study of Eunice that allows the reader to look into the mind of a cold-blooded killer. Those are the main reasons why you won't be able to stop reading this book once you start it :)
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This is one of Ruth Rendell's earlier works and, perhaps, one of her best. More of a novella, rather than a full fledged novel, by virtue of its brevity, it is absolutely brilliant, well-written, and gripping from the get go. Ms. Rendell captures the reader with her first sentence, "Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write."
This is a descriptive and insightful literary stunner about how an illiterate, middle aged women gets to the point that she wipes out a family one fateful evening. The book takes the reader, step by step, through the events that lead up to this crossroad. It explores the mind of Eunice Parchman, a woman so limited in her world view and so robotic in her actions that she is almost repellent. The reader marvels at her very existence and is sure to find her fascinating character study.
Ms. Parchman's interactions with the well educated Coverdale family, who employs her as a housekeeper, are intriguing and always interesting, as she struggles to keep her illiteracy a secret. How Ms. Parchman circumvents its discovery for as long as does, the lengths to which she goes to maintain a facade of literacy, and her socially inappropriate responses to every day situations, paint an intriguing psychological portrait for the reader. The eventual discovery of her illiteracy results in a ghastly outcome, which makes for some gripping and chilling reading.
Ms. Rendell is masterful in her storytelling, infusing mundane situations with an understated horror that is all the more chilling because of the common denominator that strikes a chord with the reader. Written is well-nuanced, taut, spare style, this book is a literary gem that will keep the reader riveted to its pages. Bravo!
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A Judgement in Stone is Rendell's masterpiece (well, along with one or two others). It is popular opinion among her fans, and it is also true. I have never read a better book on the class division in England; any books that deal with probing the minds of the mad are written only by Rendell herself.
"Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write", is its famous first line, and a brilliant one it is too. The crime writer Henning Mankell has said that it is his ambition to write a crime novel where, from the beginning, the reader knows exactly what is going to happen, but continues to read the rest of the book for a desperate need to find out more details such as why and how. In time, Mankell may well achieve that, but with A Judgement in Stone Rendell already has.
Despite that the reader knows what's going to happen, there is more compulsion to turn the pages even than in a normal detective story. The psychological insights and the gradual movements towards the foreshadowed events are absolutely gripping - this novel is possibly Rendell's most focused depiction of a mind driven to madness, mad actions, despite not being inherently "mad".
It's also told in a wonderful style. A retrospective one, looking back on events as if you are being told a story by a person in the room with you. It's almost delivered as a true-crime case study, a proper scientific rendering of murder.
It is truly superb. Only Rendell could write a novel where the psychoses of an illiterate lead to catastrophic murder. The writing is brilliant, the description of colliding classes is inspiring and very well-done indeed. Tension and suspension fill the pages until the very last, as the two women (Eunice and her friend Joan, follow down this terrible path.) How did it happen? What exactly set it off? Why? All questions the reader desperately wants to know. Also particularly chilling is the way that, throughout the book, the characters have so many opportunities to escape their fate, but they never take. There is always a possibility for escape, but we know they don't take it. Rendell snatches it away before long in any case.
An excellent book. It's only 200 pages, but it says so very much about people and society that it'd be easy to re-read it as soon as you finish it the first time.
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This is one of Ruth Rendell's earlier works and, perhaps, one of her best. More of a novella, rather than a full fledged novel, by virtue of its brevity, it is absolutely brilliant, well-written, and gripping from the get go. Ms. Rendell captures the reader with her first sentence, "Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write."
This is a descriptive and insightful literary stunner about how an illiterate, middle aged women gets to the point that she wipes out a family one fateful evening. The book takes the reader, step by step, through the events that lead up to this crossroad. It explores the mind of Eunice Parchman, a woman so limited in her world view and so robotic in her actions that she is almost repellent. The reader marvels at her very existence and is sure to find her fascinating character study.
Ms. Parchman's interactions with the well educated Coverdale family, who employs her as a housekeeper, are intriguing and always interesting, as she struggles to keep her illiteracy a secret. How Ms. Parchman circumvents its discovery for as long as does, the lengths to which she goes to maintain a facade of literacy, and her socially inappropriate responses to every day situations, paint an intriguing psychological portrait for the reader. The eventual discovery of her illiteracy results in a ghastly outcome, which makes for some gripping and chilling reading.
Ms. Rendell is masterful in her storytelling, infusing mundane situations with an understated horror that is all the more chilling because of the common denominator that strikes a chord with the reader. Written is well-nuanced, taut, spare style, this book is a literary gem that will keep the reader riveted to its pages. Bravo!
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on 28 January 2015
very Ruthy
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