RUTH RENDELL – The Lake of Darkness. Doubleday, US, hardcover, 1980. Bantam, US, paperback, 1987. Vintage Crime/Black Lizard,US, softcover, 2001. First published in the UK by Hutchinson, hardcover, 1980. TV Adaptation: Episodes 8 & 9, Season 11 of Ruth Rendell Mysteries, 03 & 10 May 1999.

   When Ruth Rendell’s books involve her series character, Inspector Wexford, she writes detective stories, and, as a guess, most of her fans like those best. She also writes crime novels with a psychological bent, none of which carries a character over from one to the next. From all indications, these are the ones the author herself prefers to write. While they are intended less to be read for the sheer pleasure of reading, perhaps, they are not, by any means, any less rewarding for it.

   Wexford is not in this one. There are instead two other major participants in this ironic melodrama as it gradually unfolds. One is a mild-mannered accountant wrestling with latent homosexual urgings, thrust suddenly into an affair with a married woman. The other is a pale, anemic handyman with (he thinks) psychic powers. He is also (we know) a psychopathic killer. That their paths are doomed to cross, of course we also know.

   That it makes for such shivery reading has nothing to do with the supernatural. These two unfortunates are so overwhelmed by life, so permanently warped in personality, that they have literally become alien to the rest of humanity, in thought and in behavior, if not in appearance. They are innocents caught up in a monstrous twist of fate. What Rendell renders so convincingly is the fact that even is we were so inclined, there’s no way in this world we could ever help them.

Rating: A minus

–Very slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 1, January-February 1981.