The Girl Next Door
Random House UK, Cornerstone
The dazzling new novel from Ruth Rendell. When the bones of two severed hands are discovered in a box, an investigation into a long buried crime of passion begins. And a group of friends, who played together as children, begin to question their past.
‘For Woody, anger was cold. Cold and slow. But once it had started it mounted gradually and he could think of nothing else. He knew he couldn’t stay alive while those two were alive. Instead of sleeping, he lay awake in the dark and saw those hands. Anita’s narrow white hand with the long nails painted pastel pink, the man’s brown hand equally shapely, the fingers slightly splayed.’
Before the advent of the Second World War, beneath the green meadows of Loughton, Essex, a dark network of tunnels has been dug. A group of children discover them. They play there. It becomes their secret place.
Seventy years on, the world has changed. Developers have altered the rural landscape. Friends from a half-remembered world have married, died, grown sick, moved on or disappeared.
Work on a new house called Warlock uncovers a grisly secret, buried a lifetime ago, and a weary detective, more preoccupied with current crimes, must investigate a possible case of murder.
In all her novels, Ruth Rendell digs deep beneath the surface to investigate the secrets of the human psyche. The interconnecting tunnels of Loughton in THE GIRL NEXT DOOR lead to no single destination. But the relationships formed there, the incidents that occurred, exert a profound influence – not only on the survivors but in unearthing the true nature of the mysterious past.
The beginning is intriguing- we see a murder taking place as described by the cold, emotionless murderer. From the beginning you know who the murderer is, you know who the victims are and you wait for more action or revelations to occur. You wait…and you wait.
The narrative then morphs into a study on aging, getting old; a group of school friends reunited by gruesome discovery of decayed severed hands in a biscuit box buried in the tunnels the friends used to play in. We visit their lives now and their relationships and learn a little about what has transpired in their lives during the 70 odd years since they all went to school together. The intriguing start flounders…the rest of the book is disjointed, people die of old age, marriages break up, new relationships start (and one of those in particular is a bit distasteful to me but no reveal here). This is a story largely concerned with secrets, lies and ageing…but there is nothing inspiring or intriguing for this reader, I read to the end expecting something…something outrageous or mysterious or suspicious to happen. It didn’t.