Rendell, Ruth - 'The Girl Next Door'
The opening chapter tells a story of a past traumatic event, in which a cuckolded husband finds his wife with another man, kills them both, cuts off one of their hands and puts them in a biscuit tin, and then disposes of the rest of their bodies in such a way that they will never be found. He tells everyone that his wife has gone away, and he sends his nine-year-old son to live with his aunt. No one appears to miss the unnamed man or the wife, and the murder goes undetected until the biscuit tin containing the hands is discovered many many years later.
When Rosemary and her husband Alan read about it in the newspaper, it sets off a train of memories of when they were children, playing in the 'qanats': some sort of underground tunnels near the house where the bones have just been discovered, tunnels that were in fact the foundations for houses, due to be built. There was a whole gang of them, Robert and George, Stanley, Norman and Moira, Alan, Lewis, Bill and Daphne, and Michael. In fact it was Michael's father that eventually turned the kids out of the tunnels, a fact that they remember as Alan and Rosemary discuss the old times with Norman, Stanley and his wife Maureen. Should they get in touch with the police? It seems the right thing to do. However Detective Inspector Colin Quell doesn't seem to be that interested, the bones are so old.
The main effect of the re-gathering of those of the original gang still alive, so that they can try to help the police identify the people to whom the bones may have belonged, is that many distant memories are stirred up, and things start to happen that affect people's lives and relationships.
This is a novel full of reminiscences, of what happened all those years ago, of relationships then and now, and how life has turned out for all those involved. Daphne seems to be a bit of a catalyst. Widowed, and living in an expensive, tastefully decorated house in London, Alan rekindles his old love for her, leading to some rather dramatic consequences. Michael, the only one of the gang with a father still alive (and almost 100 years old) starts to finally look back on his past and his destructive relationship with his father. Partly prompted by the death of his aunt, he decides to try to reconnect with him before its too late.
The identity of the dead woman is very clear from the start, but the identity of her lover is a mystery that gradually unravels as the stories of the old gang unfold. A mixture of natural deaths, murder, and attempted murder, this story explores the effects of stirring up the past on the lives of those still living many years on. A really beautiful description of how, despite their ages, people still feel the same way as they did when young, and can still act rashly despite the many years of experience. An intriguing slow burner that was a pleasure to read.
Michelle Peckham, England