2009: 107. A Judgement In Stone

“Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write.”

A Judgement In Stone, Ruth Rendell

      This is such a weird little mystery that I almost think that Rendell wrote it on a dare - like someone said to her, “I bet you can’t write a book where the murder is committed because someone is illiterate” and Rendell said “you’re on!”  So she wrote a murder mystery where the entire motive for a surly employee to slaughter four innocent people is (or at least has its roots in) the fact that she cannot read.  And it mostly works - Rendell takes the premise that Eunice Parchman would be so mortified about her illiteracy and so unwilling to let anyone know of her failing that she would do anything to keep it secret.  Only, to make this plausible, Eunice is also kind of a sociopath, and while the book is a little fast and loose about whether she is naturally like that or it arose from her pathological desire to keep her secret, if the book is to work at all, we need to think that Eunice already had a screw loose.  If you can get behind that aspect of the book (and, to be fair the book is pretty convincing - it’s just a small part of me that thought, well, really?), it’s a pretty good mystery.  Actually, for some reason, it reminded me of In Cold Blood.  Perhaps because of the reporter-like tone that the narration takes, or perhaps something about how, although we know who did it from the first sentence, Rendell nonetheless is able to build suspense throughout the book, reminded me of Capote.  If you like that, you’d like this, I think.

Date/Place Completed: August 2009; D.C.

Categories: Fiction; Ruth Rendell Project

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017