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A sheltered girl spins a tale of her involvement with her mother in a years-old series of killings--in this meditative Arabian Nights of murder-in-retrospect reminiscent of Rendell's Barbara Vine byline. Rendell's Scheherazade is Liza Beck, whose aptly named mother Eve, obsessively attached to Shrove House, the splendid, isolated estate in whose gatehouse she lives, has kept her from all contact with the outside world--no school, no TV--until nearly the time that Eve, about to be taken away by the police, sends her 16-year-old daughter away to the protection of an old London school friend. But Liza runs off instead to her lover Sean Holford, the new Shrove handyman, and spends a hundred nights telling him the story of how Eve came to commit murder--though the story begins "when I was four...that's when she killed the first one." Gradually, like a distant shore in the mist, a byzantine logic comes into view. When her own mother, who's spent years caring for old Jonathan Tobias, the master of Shrove House, is led by his capricious promise to believe he'll leave it to her and then thwarted is by another caprice, Eve stays on as caretaker at young Jonathan's request, determined to entice him into marriage. Years pass, marked only by Jonathan's repeated withdrawal--and by Eve's disembodied homicidal reprisals against anyone who threatens her tenure at Shrove. Eve is finally less fascinating than she's supposed to be, but her daughter, who in her cleareyed innocence says proudly that "there can't be many people who've read the whole of Virgil's Aeneid in the original and seen two people murdered by the time they're sixteen," is a masterly creation, touched equally with pathology and mercy. Trust Rendell to find new depths of terror in the idea of unschooled unsentimentality. And if this sedate, chilling family portrait isn't in the same class as A Judgment in Stone or Make Death Love Me, well, what is?
Pub Date: Oct. 6th, 1993
ISBN: 0440218659
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1993


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