Rendell’s 46th (Road Rage, 1997, etc.) is a modern-day fairy tale—Margaret Yorke meets Fay Weldon—that shows the dark side of lovers’ reckless pursuit of their objects of beauty. In long-ago happier days, Harriet Oxenholme was the lover of rock star Marc Syre. (In the novel’s opening scene, their love is being immortalized in a famous painting; the next time we see them, two years and many pages later, he’s throwing her bodily out of his house.) Now, faded and florid, she’s reduced to searching the adverts for workmen who can come to her lovely house to fill the hours left empty by her loveless marriage. Beautiful woodworker Teddy Brex seems perfect for the role of her next lover. But Teddy, an unloved child whose scary lack of nurturing has led him to prize beautiful things above people, is less interested in Harriet than in her house—or in Francine Hill, a fairy princess with a secret that, if he only knew it, makes her perfect for Teddy’s frighteningly abrupt style of courtship: as a child of six, she saw her mother open the door to the man who shot her to death and then came upstairs to Francine’s hiding place. Surviving both that nightmare and the six months of muteness that followed, Francine has grown up under the pathologically controlling eye of her wicked stepmother Julia. Once she’s set up her constellation of users and beautiful objects and shown how Harriet and Teddy can fulfill both functions at once, Rendell focuses on the doomed romance of murderous Teddy and haunted Francine with all the loving attention of a watchmaker regarding a ticking bomb. If the result lacks the energy and inevitability of the classic A Judgment in Stone, Rendell supplies a Dickensian wealth of social detail that brings her beautiful people and their predators to startling life.