Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Birthday Present

The Birthday Present: A Novel

From Booklist via Amazon -- Vine, the pen name of Ruth Rendell (whose Reginald Wexford mysteries are among the best of contemporary British procedurals), turns in another involving stand-alone that explores the twists and turns of human behavior. Flipping between the perspectives of two unacquainted narrators, she chronicles the rise and fall of a self-indulgent British politician, whose career collapses, in part, because of a tragic stroke of bad luck. Ivor Tesham, a rising star in John Major’s liberal party, is shocked when he learns about the death of his mistress, killed in a car accident while on her way to him, bound and blindfolded, as the willing victim of a faux kidnapping meant to set the stage for a birthday gift of adventurous sex. Fearing public censure, Tesham stays quiet, despite the advice from his sister and brother-in-law. As might be expected, his selfish decision gradually ripples outward, leading to unexpected consequences not only for himself but also for the other vicitims of the accident—especially the woman’s troubled friend. As with her other psychological thrillers, Vine writes with calm elegance, slowly unravelling the story while constructing a strong sense of place, politics, and social class to support her players. It’s the very ordinariness of her characters and the randomness of their lives that create the drama here.

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