I don't think Ruth Rendell can write a bad book. I've probably read more books by Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine than I have by any other author and while I favor some stories over others I can't think of a single book by her (and I have been reading her for a long time) that I would call a bad reading experience. So it is always with much happy anticipation that I crack open one of her books. A Demon in My View, published in 1976, is yet again another example why she is called, and I can only concur, the queen of the psychological suspense novel.
She does it all well--a story that is tightly controlled and well plotted, interesting and well developed characters, acute psychological insight and of course always elegantly written books. Her stories often reflect contemporary society's ills which have changed with the times, so prolific is she with a writing career that spans more than forty years. And there is always something extra--she pulls it all together in a really clever and often surprising ways like a magic trick. Like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. And how she does it over and over again, and so apparently effortlessly, never ceases to amaze me. But I'm glad she can.
A Demon on My View takes place in a London apartment building, 142 Trinity Road. The top flat is occupied by a tenant of long standing, one Arthur Johnson. Arthur is a solitary fellow, fastidious in his ways, ultra conscientious but perhaps a little too fussy. In addition to his work in a construction office he acts as a sort of dogsbody for the building's owner, a schoolhood chum, by collecting the rents from the other lodgers, sorting the mail, and keeping an eye on things in general. His manners are almost flawless, so well trained was he by his Aunt Gracie who raised him. He rarely strays from his daily routine. But there is something not quite right about Arthur.
The building on Trinity Road was once a single family home, which after the war was broken into a series of flats. There's a diverse group of tenants at 142; an Asian woman with an endless string of boyfriends, all of whom she loves but none of whom she promises anything. Then there is a married couple who seem to be constantly bickering, pay their bills separately and each go their opposite way in the evening. The last tenant may either be the cause or the effect of the married couple's discontent since he spends so much time with the husband in the local pub. And one flat sits empty.
Arthur Johnson is relatively happy in his life, but when Anthony Johnson moves into the empty flat it will cause an upheaval in Arthur's life that is almost unbearable and of course will cause the most awful repercussions. Anthony is a student working on his thesis about psychopathic personalities. He's come up to London from Bristol to put space between himself and his married lover. It's a wonderful and ironic juxtaposition of characterizations on Rendell's part. The men share similar names but their mindsets couldn't be farther apart. Anthony's arrival and subsequent actions, unknowingly instigated, will set into motion terrible events.
To tell you any more would ruin the story. I'll only say that Rendell masterfully intertwines the lives of the tenants--like dominoes in a curvy line when the first is pushed the rest of the dominoes collapse one on top of the other. There was a time when I gorged myself on Ruth Rendell's books (particularly those written under her pseudonym), but these days I tend to space her books out. I think I won't let so much time pass until I read another, however. My last Rendell novel was A Judgement in Stone, another slick story that is sparely written but tells a great story. I think it may finally be time to embark on her Inspector Wexford novels, so I'm off to dig out my copy of From Doon with Death.