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Today, I am off to physical therapy. I will be back around 9:30 to add any latecomers.
Adam and Eve and Pinch Me by Ruth Rendell
(Review by Deb)
Published in 2002, Adam and Eve and Pinch Me (the title is from a childish joke that results in an innocent foil getting pinched) is much more in the tone of the books Ruth Rendell publishes under her alternate pen name of Barbara Vine than Rendell’s (now completed) series of police procedurals featuring Detective Inspector Reg Wexford. The book is full of Barbara Vine tropes in which peoples’ lives are restricted by both internal decisions and external factors.
I think it was Stephen King who praised Ruth Rendell’s brilliant use of “malevolent coincidence” in describing how the confluence of fate and personality work in the lives of her (often) mentally-, socially-, and/or financially-limited characters. Events that would seem far-fetched, even preposterous, in the hands of lesser writers are readily accepted in Rendell’s work because they proceed organically from the characters’ established habits, desires, and frames of mind. Here are some examples of these coincidences in Rendell’s Adam and Eve and Pinch Me:
· A ne’er-do-well man makes a spontaneous decision to see an afternoon movie, unaware that a mentally-fragile woman he has previously fleeced is also there and armed with a knife.
· A closeted politician inadvertently leaves an important file in his lover’s apartment. When he surreptitiously returns to retrieve it, he is left without an alibi for the time during which his wife’s ex-husband was murdered.
· A married couple, each with significant health issues, decide to spend an afternoon walking on an isolated heath. They, too, are left without an alibi for the time of the murder of their neighbor’s fiancé—a man they both dislike.
· A woman forgets to bring her lunch to work. Returning home to retrieve it, she encounters a repairman who she mistakes for someone else, with tragic consequences.
In Adam and Eve and Pinch Me, Jerry Leach (aka Jerry Leigh aka John/Jock Lewis) has long ago left his wife, Zillah, and their two children for the greener pastures of a serial progression of single women, all of whom own their own homes and have healthy bank balances. Jerry (changing or adapting his name as it suits circumstances) lives on these women (often promising them marriage, although he is actually not divorced from Zillah) until they get tired of him or he meets a likelier prospect.
One of those prospects is Minty Knox, a character familiar in the Rendell/Vine universe: a woman the reader can clearly see is mentally ill but who manages to conceal the extent of her condition from the people around her (who do not have the readers’ advantage of hearing Minty’s inner monologues or observing her compulsive cleaning and dietary habits). When Jerry leaves Minty (somehow convincing her that he has died in a train accident), she does not chalk it up to experience and move on; instead, she dwells obsessively on her life savings--money she gave to Jerry. The thought of this money and what she was planning to do with it (install a new shower in her bathroom) haunts her almost as much as the ghosts she sees and voices she hears: her late aunt, Jerry, Jerry’s mother, and others. The voice talk to—one might say, hector—Minty continually until she resolves that drastic action is the only way to make them stop.
Another of Jerry’s conquests is Fiona, an investment banker, who is devastated with grief when Jerry is found murdered. In her misery, she inadvertently casts suspicion on her neighbors in the unsolved case. Then, when a similar murder takes place, it is Fiona who finds herself a possible suspect.
Meanwhile, Jerry’s wife Zillah has entered into a “marriage of convenience” with a gay Tory politician, neglecting to mention to him that she is still married. Rendell paints this politician—a dreadful snob with the double-barreled name of James Melcombe-Smith—as the nastiest character in the book; not because of his sexuality, but because of his hypocrisy in espousing the anti-gay positions of his Conservative Party base in his ambition to climb the ladder of politics. He too will be hoist on his own petard when Jerry’s death is discovered.
A number of other characters, secondary but fully-fleshed out (including Minty’s vibrant and kind-hearted neighbors, Zillah’s older-than-her-years daughter, and a tough-minded journalist who just happens to be one of Jerry’s ex-flings), populate the book—each with their part to play as events and the main characters’ reactions to them spin intricate webs that trap and confine. Some of these webs are the characters’ own creations and some are due to our old friend, the malevolent coincidence.
IN THE LAST ANAYSIS, Amanda Cross (Carolyn Gold Heilbrun)
Amanda Cross wrote 14 books about Kate Fansler, an English Professor who solved crimes and cogitated on the issues of the day: feminism being foremost in her mind.
In this her first novel, a student, referred by Professor Fansler to a psychoanalyst friend, is found stabbed to dead on his couch, his fingerprints on the knife. Fansler solves the murder with the help of her friend, ADA, Reed Amhearst. All of Cross' books take place in an academic setting and she uses it well to explore the issues of the day that concerned her.
Heilbrun, the mother of three children, was the first woman to receive tenure at Columbia University although it was not for writing this series, something that was looked down on by her colleagues.
Heilbrun committed suicide at the age of 77. She was not sick but perhaps feared illness or the loss of independence. She also believed fervently in the right to decide when to end one's own life. You can find more out about her last day here.
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