Wednesday, October 3, 2007

How many mystery novels do you know where the murderer is revealed in the first sentence?

"Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write” is the opening line to the 1977 novel “A Judgement in Stone,” written by acclaimed English mystery writer Ruth Rendell (aka the Queen of Crime). The novel centers on a woman who, because of her illiteracy, isolates herself from all those around her. As a result of this, television becomes the one medium by which she is connected to the world. Eunice will lie, deceive, manipulate and even kill to get what she wants (which is usually to watch her favorite crime shows.)

What I find amazing about this novel is that although Rendell presents the gist of the crime in the first sentence, I couldn’t help being drawn into Eunice’s world. At times I was disgusted with Eunice and yet I wanted to know more about her and why she committed this horrible crime. How could this woman, most often seen as a victim, become the aggressor and dominant force in this narrative?

Rendell has written over forty crime novels. Many of them follow a common theme; a disadvantaged main character that is isolated from society and the repercussions of this isolation on them and others. In “A Judgement in Stone,” Rendell shows the clash that can exist between literate and non-literate people. Rendell goes beyond writing the usual mystery novel; she creates a social commentary on what happens to those who are on the outside of society.

What is the world like for those who are illiterate? What role do they play in society? What would I do if I was Eunice? These are questions that I asked myself as I read this novel.

I am not one that reads crime novels as a hobby, but having read one of Rendell’s novels, I am hooked. Rendell’s prose and insights into the human psyche keep me coming back for more. If you are at all interested in psychology, sociology or criminology, I highly recommend this novel.

Read anything interesting lately? Let us know!

-Billy-

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