A quiet but ultimately searing double portrait of two women's doomed affairs. ""As for liking, they're past all that,"" caregiver Genevieve Warner thinks about her geriatric charges at Norfolk's Middleton Hall. But she finds herself growing close enough to one of those elderly patients, fatally cancer-stricken Stella Newland, to throw her own life into unimaginable calamity. Moved by Jenny's confession that she's in love with married filmmaker Ned Saraman, hitherto reserved Stella begins to talk compulsively about her own loveless marriage and her doomed romance with illustrator Alan Tyzark that ended so abruptly over 20 years ago. Superstitious Jenny thinks the success of her own affair hinges on her grandmother's talismans and the avoidance of red flowers and green clothing only because she doesn't at first see the deeper, far more unsettling ways her story eerily doubles Stella's own. Her ritual comportment toward her unwitting husband and her impassioned lover echoes Stella's; a series of old movies featuring Gilda Brent, Alan's actress wife, provides suitably ironic counterpoint to both affairs; and after Stella asks Jenny to visit Molucca, the house she secretly bought for herself and Alan, Jenny uses it for her assignations with Ned. Eventually the two stories become so closely intertwined that if it weren't for the differences between their voices--Stella's fading, patrician cadences versus Jenny's shrewd, foolish, working-class chat--it would be hard to tell present love from past. It's only at this point that Vine (Ruth Rendell) begins to fulfill the doomy note she's struck from the first by showing how and why both romances must end in disaster--and exactly what the connections are between them that have made Jenny, as grievously as Steila, past all that from the beginning. Vine/Rendell's eighth novel (No Night Is Too Long, Jan. 1995, etc.) is her most tightly wound, her most searching, and perhaps her finest to date.