By Ruth Rendell
First published: UK, Profile, 2017
Hauntings, possession, and Aztec sacrifice – plus the more standard murder, deceit, and deception – are here in the last collection of Ruth Rendell’s short stories.
Rendell was one of the all-time great mystery short story writers; hell, I’d even drop “mystery”.
They’re neat, deftly constructed, and perfectly formed; many have the “GOTCHA!” bite of an Agatha Christie, coupled with the irony of Roald Dahl.
Never Sleep in a Bed Facing a Mirror (1997)
A neat little ghost story – in three lines. Rendell’s vying with Hemingway (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn”) and M.R. James (“He woke up frightened, and reached for the matches, and the matches were put into his hand”).
A Spot of Folly (1974)
Sandy Vaughan has more on his mind than business when he attends a conference in Paris.
The Price of Joy (1977)
Rich, much-married Daniel Derbyshire falls in love with his first wife, Joy. What’s he to do when his fourth wife is kidnapped and held to ransom? You’ll probably guess the twist.
The Irony of Hate (1977)
“I murdered Brenda Goring for what I suppose is the most unusual of motives,” the narrator tells us. “She came between me and my wife.”
This is the best story in the collection: a little gem – with a killer twist, and those misdirecting sentences of which Rendell, like Christie, had the knack.
Digby’s Wives (1985)
Michael Dashwood suspects his schoolfriend Digby Ambeach is a murderer. His first wife drowned while boating, leaving him her money. Does he have plans for wife number three?
The Haunting of Shawley Rectory (1979)
Shawley, not Borley. A ghost story with a difference: the house isn’t haunted, the house seems to be the one doing the haunting. Creepy.
A Drop Too Much (1975)
Hedda Hardy – loud, overbearing – wears the pants in her marriage, so her henpecked husband decides to get rid of her. A comic story, set near Kingsmarkham – but no Wexford.
The Thief (2006)
The longest story – and the least engaging.
Obsessive thief Polly steals the suitcase of a man who bullied her on a plane – and gets into hot water.
Published as a novella in 2006, it was originally written for Quick Reads, “to encourage adults who don’t read or find reading difficult,to discover the joy of books”. A worthy aim – but the simplistic, Enid Blytonish style makes it a chore for experienced readers.
The Long Corridor of Time (1974)
A newly-wed couple’s lives are ruined as past and present merge, in this atmospheric ghost story with a Sapphire & Steel ambience.
In the Time of His Prosperity (2005)
Published under Rendell’s pseudonym “Barbara Vine”. Beautiful young art historian Paul Hazlitt disappears, while working for Declan Roche, a millionaire collector of Mesoamerican art – who’s built a copy of the temple of Tezcatlipoca, God of the Smoking Mirror, in his garden. I love stories about archaeology and mythology, so really enjoyed this one.
A grim, domestic dystopia in the Wyndham manner, written at the height of the Cold War. (Nuclear holocaust loomed large in the mid-’80s zeitgeist; see, for instance, Threads and Infocom’s Trinity.)
New and uncollected tales of murder, mischief, magic and madness.
Ruth Rendell was an acknowledged master of psychological suspense: these are ten (and a quarter) of her most chillingly compelling short stories, collected here together for the first time.
In these tales, a businessman boasts about cheating on his wife, only to find the tables turned. A beautiful country rectory reverberates to the echo of a historical murder. A compulsive liar acts on impulse, only to be lead inexorably to disaster. And a wealthy man finds there is more to his wife’s kidnapping than meets the eye.
Atmospheric, gripping and never predictable, this is Ruth Rendell at her inimitable best.
The stories are: Never Sleep in a Bed Facing a Mirror; A Spot of Folly; The Price of Joy; The Irony of Hate; Digby’s Wives; The Haunting of Shawley Rectory; A Drop Too Much; The Thief; The Long Corridor of Time; In the Time of his Prosperity; and Trebuchet.
Introduction from Sophie Hannah.