Friday, 3 November 2017

A Ruth Rendell for the 1968 Club

My first completed read for the 1968 club is Ruth Rendell’s The Secret House of Death. A slightly hyperbolic title which conceals the fact that the secret house in question is a detached suburban villa in a pleasantly leafy, gossipy, rather dull, suburb. 

Susan Townsend, from whose vantage point a lot of this book is written, lives in one of those roads where privacy is impossible. There is a large dog which barks whenever a stranger goes past, and small children, friends, neighbours, cleaning ladies, duck in and out of each other’s back doors as a matter of course. It’s clear that Susan’s ex, Julian, hasn’t just divorced her but a whole way of life; the suburb, the house, the family unit and the (to him) dreary ordinariness of it all.

In her own way Susan would like to do the same thing. Not to hold herself aloof exactly, but being still a little raw from the collapse of her marriage, and busy with her young son and some typing work she's taken on, she's not eager to be drawn into the gossip about the troubles next door at the Norths'. 

But it's impossible not to hear the talk that's going round about the central heating salesman who drops in regularly when Mr North is out at work – and how nobody believes he’s really there to sell central heating. She's thankful to at least escape being used as the wife’s confidante.

Or at least it seems like an escape until she drops in next door and finds the bodies…

This isn’t a fast paced thriller of a book. There’s no brilliant detective making amazing deductions, no car chase, no dramatic denouement at the end. Just a well-paced untangling of the facts (Rendell plays fair, relevant clues to what is going on are there to be found if you look), and a reminder that perhaps it’s dangerous to over-identify with someone just because they appear to be in similar circumstances to you. 

As always, thanks to Simon and Karen for hosting, and encouraging us all to read more widely!


  1. How have I still never read anything by Rendell? Maybe for the next club!

    1. I haven't read that much either to be honest, and for years I got Ruth Rendell muddled with P D James. I think the reason for both those things is because they both started writing in the 60s, when the 'golden age' of crime was supposedly over.