Friday, April 11, 2014

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, April 11, 2014

Next Friday, April 18, B.V. Lawson (In Reference to Murder) will be collecting the links, right here

A Fatal Inversion by Barbara Vine, reviewed by Deb Pfeifer

First published in 1987, A Fatal Inversion was the second book Ruth Rendell released under her alternate pen name of Barbara Vine.  Unlike the majority of the Ruth Rendell books--police procedurals featuring DCI Reg Wexford of the Kingsmarkham police force—the Barbara Vine novels focus less on the solution to a specific crime and more on the unintended and far-reaching consequences of past actions, often committed by people with social, emotional, or mental limitations, on present situations.  Although they contain much of Rendell’s atmospheric descriptions of natural and architectural beauty and keen insights into the psyches of damaged individuals, the Barbara Vine novels are also darker and more psychologically fraught than most of the Rendell books, with muted endings that are both downbeat and inevitable.  In these ways, A Fatal Inversion is very much a “typical” Barbara Vine work.

A couple digging in a pet cemetery to bury the remains of their beloved dog uncover the skeletons of a woman and an infant.  Authorities determine the bones to have been in the ground about a decade and start an investigation.  The news of the discovery of the bones has a shattering impact on three men:  Adam, Rufus, and Shiva.  None of them has had any communication with the others for over ten years, but each thinks back on the summer of 1976 when they were about twenty years old and lived in a commune-like setting at Wyvis Hall, a large manor house that Adam unexpectedly inherited from his great-uncle.  The decision by this great-uncle to skip Adam’s father (the presumed heir) and will an enormous house (with its related responsibilities and upkeep) to the far-too-young, inexperienced, and underfunded Adam is an inversion in the order of things that will shatter many lives.

As each of the men remembers elements of that long-ago summer, we also learn of their lives in the present.  Adam has become a fussy man, neurotically obsessed with the health of his infant daughter who he loves in equal proportion to the contempt he feels for his sensible wife.  Rufus is a successful, charming Harley Street doctor, unaware that his “secret” drinking is a secret to no one but himself.  Shiva, born and raised in England but always aware that his skin color and Indian ancestry mark him as someone different and the focus of neighborhood racism, has never fulfilled his earlier potential as a promising medical and pharmacy student.

There were also two women at Wyvis Hall during the summer of 1976:  Vivien, Shiva’s sometime girlfriend, a maternal earth-mother type, and Zosie, whose mental instability is obvious to the reader but not so much to the others—perhaps because of their youth or perhaps because Zosie’s hippie/waif look so much embodies the standard of beauty of her era.  Zosie is briefly Rufus’s girlfriend, but transfers her affections to Adam who falls head-over-heels in love with her, even when she commits a shocking act (another “inversion” to the natural order) that will have terrible consequences for everyone.

Vine carefully and cleverly uncovers the secret of Wyvis Hall and what happened during the summer of 1976, moving between the present and the past with ease.  She does some very clever technical work, since we essentially are reading six different viewpoints:  Each of the three men in the present and each of their memories of the past.  She keeps us guessing as to the identity of the two skeletons and how they got into the ground.  In the end, one would have to say that “punishment” (such as it is) for the guilty is not meted out in proportion to the level of responsibility each one assumes for what went on that summer.  And, possibly, the guiltiest person of all ends up in the happiest of circumstances.  Such is the world of Barbara Vine.

Sergio Angelini, FEAR, L. Ron Hubbard
Joe Barone, TOO LATE TO DIE, Bill Crider
Brian Busby, WASTE NO TEARS, Hugh Garner
Bill Crider, NO CHANCE IN HELL, Nick Quarry
Curt Evans, Ruth Rendell and Gladys Mitchell
Ed Gorman, THE DARK SIDE OF THE ISLAND, Jack Higgins
Rich Horton, Sylvia Cary, Frances Parkinson Keyes
Jerry House, THE DARINGS OF THE RED ROSE, Margery Allingham
Randy Johnson, TWO ARCHER SHORTS, Ross Macdonald
Nick Jones, TOO MUCH, Donald Westlake
George Kelley, UPON THE SEA OF STARS, A Bertram Chandler
Margot Kinberg, A PRIVATE VENUS, Giorgio Scerbanenco
Rob Kitchin, HURRICANE PUNCH, Tim Dorsey
Evan Lewis, GREEN ICE Raoul Whitfield
Steve Lewis/William Deeck, MISS HOGG AND THE MISSING SISTER, Austin Lee
Todd Mason, REDUX: Breaking Barriers
Neer, ONE OF US MUST DIE, Anna Clarke
James Reasoner, MODESTY BLAISE: GRAPHIC NOVEL, Peter O'Donnell and Dick Giordano
Richard Robinson, GONE NO FORWARDING, Joe Gores
Ron Scheer, RIMROCK JONES, Dane Coolidge 
Kevin Tipple , A PATCHWORK OF STARS, Kaye George
Prashant Trikannad, PUBLIC MURDERS, Bill Granger


Jerry House said...

Mine is THE DARINGS OF THE RED ROSE, not "DARLINGS." The writing may be a bit twee in this collection but the villains are anything but darling. :-)

Anonymous said...

Oh, I like the variety here, as ever. And thanks for including my post, Patti.

Charles Gramlich said...

I read Fear by Hubbard not long ago.

Todd Mason said...

Well, I thought I was about to write a new FFB, but instead found myself putting my head down after feeding the cats.

So, a redux post: Breaking Barriers: Theodore Sturgeon, Thomas Disch, Damon Knight and other anthologists...

Gerard said...

I have nothing.

neer said...

Dear Patti

Here's a rather late entry:

One of us must Die by Anna Clarke