The Girl Next Door by Ruth Rendell

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The Girl Next Door by Ruth Rendell

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: You know who did it within the first few pages - the joy of this book is the way that the crime affects the lives of innocent people seventy years later.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: August 2014
Publisher: Hutchinson
ISBN: 978-0091958831

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Before the Second World War a series of tunnels were dug under the green fields of Loughton in Essex. As children will they played in them, acted out small dramas and made them their own - until they were told not to go there again by the father of one of the children. He was known as Woody - a man with a sharp temper along with a disinclination to work, which he managed to achieve because of the money which his wife had inherited and which was supplemented by some inheritances of his own. There was a child in the family - Michael - but neither parent took any interest in him and his mother spent most of her time indulging herself. When Woody discovered that she was being unfaithful to him he murdered her and her lover, cut off one of their hands and buried both in a tin box far out in the fields.

We know the identity of the murderer from the first few pages - although we don't know the name of the man who was murdered. But the main gap in our knowledge is the effect of the discovery of the hands seventy years later when the foundations of a large house are being excavated, because the main witnesses and suppliers of information about what went on are the children who played in the tunnels, many of whom are still alive.

This isn't a book which you can pick up for a few minutes and then put down. It's not quite a cast of thousands, but you have the children who played in the tunnels, their spouses, children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren along with various other adults who were 'on the scene' seventy years earlier. I was interrupted when I first started reading the book - and became so confused that I had to go back to the beginning and resorted to making some notes. Setting some quiet time aside at the beginning will pay dividends.

The joy of this book is not the discovery of the name of the male victim but of how the lives of the children, who are now elderly, change as a result of the discovery and this is where Ruth Rendell excels. Marriages fail, relationships are formed and lives are changed - sometimes for the better and sometimes not - as a result of the discovery. Rendell skillfully adds situation to situation to the point where you are overwhelmed by the inevitability of what happens. Great stuff.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy of the book to the Bookbag.

Ruth Rendell is perhaps best known for her Chief Inspector Wexford novels but of her other books my favourite is Portobello by Ruth Rendell.

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