Top positive review
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A fine book
on 30 July 2009
Having just read before Taylor's ' A stain on the silence', I couldn't help but see how vastly superior 'the Birthday Present 'is and that's why I have no hesitation in giving it five stars. Had I read it after another very good book, who knows, maybe I would have given it four? But the minute I started on it I was hooked, the elegant writing , the clever characterisation, the hints that titillated but didn't reveal all, those that would eventually not lead anywhere much but allowed us to wonder in what direction the story would be going, all this reminded me of all the reasons I have always had for liking and admiring Rendell's style. I think the way she portrays her characters is what I like best. Rendell is never PC. What the protagonists feel, think and say is entirely in keeping with who they are and however distateful some of those thoughts and actions may be it is refreshing to read about callousness and selfishness and self pity. Not because they are admirable traits in themselves of course but because every single one of us feels them at one time or another and can therefore empathise and feel a connection that is impossible when characters, as is increasingly the way with some authors nowadays, are made to utter banalities that aim at offending no one and only manage to irritate. Another of her talent is the way (and I don't know how she does it) I always feel for those people in her books who are severely flawed. Instead of judging and being repelled the reader is drawn to feel compassion and to understand, in some respects, how it all came to be.
The book deals with the repercussions of an act(immoral but not criminal and that should have remained private) when it all goes wrong. MP Ivor Tesham has an affair with a married woman and let's say that they like to add some 'piquancy' to their lovemaking. When his mistress 's birthday comes round he has an idea. He will hire two men to mock abduct her, gag her and have them bring her to him. This will be her birthday present.But when the car those two men were driving causes a terrible crash, his mistress Hebe dies and so does one of the 'abductors'. The other one has suffered terrible injuries but he may recover and tell what he knows. There is also, plain Jane Atherton who used to be Hebe's friend and who provided alibis for her. She doesn't know it all but enough to make Ivor's life unpleasant and her own humdrum existence more exciting if she chose to blackmail him. A clever tale about deceit, power, loneliness, callousness and so much more, it is an exciting read that I can only highly recommend.