Ruth Rendell novels are a study in human relationships, and this book
is no exception. It takes a look at an assortment of tenants living
in an apartment house block in London, particularly one building, but
also a couple of homes across the way.
An inordinate amount of space is devoted to one tenant, a young,
handsome youth, Stuart Font, who recently inherited some money and
bought his apartment. He decides to have a housewarming and invite
all the other tenants. His married lover forces him to invite her,
setting the stage for her husband to invade the apartment and harm
Stuart, who is later found murdered in a nearby park.
The mystery, of course, is who the murderer is. But it is almost
superfluous since the interaction of the various characters is the
prime focus of the novel: One woman who is determined to drink
herself to death; three young girls, students of a sort, one of whom
falls in love with Stuart, who in turn is obsessed with a beautiful
young Asian in the house across the street after discarding his
married lover; an elderly couple who once had a one-night stand in
their youth and find each other again; the caretaker couple, the
husband of which enjoys spying on young girls and watching pornography
on his computer. Among others.
The author’s eye for detail is sharp, and the personality descriptions
vivid. For a crime novel, the mystery is virtually irrelevant, but
certainly the character studies are vital. For that reason alone, the
book is recommended.