Friday, February 21, 2014

Ruth Rendell. A New Lease of Death (Sins of the Fathers) (1969)

     Ruth Rendell. A New Lease of Death (1969) (AKA as Sins of the Fathers, and dated 1967 on Fantastic Fiction's website. Wexford plays a peripheral role in this book, which focusses on a clergyman, Henry Archery, whose son Charles wants to marry Tess Kershaw, the daughter of a murderer, Herbert Arthur Painter, who axed his employer because he wanted £200. Archery thinks heredity will make her a villain, which displays not only uncharity, but also ignorance. Wexford is convinced Painter did it. Archery’s (and Charles’) digging finds no proof otherwise, but does unearth the fact that Irene, Tess’s mother, had had a brief (and serious) love affair with a local poet who died young, and married Painter when she discovered she was pregnant with the poet’s child. So, truly, Tess’s Daddy was no murderer.
     This is an awkward novel. Rendell is intrigued by her main character, a 40-something man of probity, honour, and respectability, who finds himself overtaken by a sudden passion for a beautiful woman whom he first sees at the hotel, and who turns out to be the wife of the prime alternative suspect (who is a sleaze ball, but not a murderer). I felt that this subplot was on the verge of becoming the main plot; and perhaps it was, in the first draft of the book. The interplay of class, respectability, love (both youthful and middle aged, both extra-marital and married) is well done, but it is not done enough.
     The book feels off balance; most of the narrative focusses on Archery, with Wexford brought in only to clarify plot points and add spoiler facts to Archery’s store of knowledge. By making Archery the main investigator, Rendell makes us want to know more about him. The truth, when Archery finds it, does him no good, that’s his punishment; but it heals rifts in Tess’s family and blesses Tess and Charles’s love. **½ (2010)

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