Harm Done by Ruth Rendell
Rendell can always be relied upon for a meticulously plotted crime within the context of a contemporary social issue. Harm Done is no exception. It finds Chief inspector Wexford confronted by three crimes – the abduction of two young girls by an odd couple who make the girls do their housework; mob violence targeted at a child molester recently released from prison and the disappearance of a three-year-old girl. Other novelists would have somehow connected these crimes, often in a highly implausible way but Rendell is too canny a writer to take that predictable approach. Instead she opts for thematic linkage by showing that beneath the idyllic façade that Kingsmarkham shows to the world is a darker world of abuse towards women.
Rendell’s tendency to contextualise her crime with current social issues is one of the most enjoyable aspects of her work. No Harm shows us the perspective of the victims of domestic violence, their children and the people who try to help by running refuges and helplines. It pushes the Inspector to confront his assumptions about abuse and to learn more from the one member of his family who has hands-on knowledge, his daughter who works at one of the women’s shelters.
The novel works well as an audio version.
Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indriðason
I’m indebted to Sarah at HardBooksHabit for introducing me to Indridasonand his Reykjavik Murder Mysteries series. Her review of Jar City got me scurrying in search of anything in our library service catalogue that featured Detective Inspector Erlendur and his team. Silence of the Grave , translated from the Icelandic by Bernard Scudder is book number 4 in the series.
This finds Erlendur called in when a skeleton is discovered half-buried in a construction site outside of Reykjavík. As archaeologists unearth the body inch by inch Erlendur’s team painstakingly try to piece together the history of families who might have lived in the area decades earlier. They are not sure even if they’re dealing with the victim of a murder or a simple case of a missing person who got lost in one of Iceland’s winter storms.Few people are alive who can help him unravel this cold case and even those who are, seem reluctant to tell the truth.
Compounding the problem is that, like many other fictional detectives Erlendur has a troubled personal life which threatens to erupt at the most incovenient moment. When his estranged daughter makes a dramatic call for his help Erlendur desperately goes in search of her through the streets of Reykjavik, questioning drug addicts and previous known associates to understand how she has ended up in a coma from which she may never recover. As Erlendur struggles to hold together the crumbling fragments of his family, his case unearths many other tales of family pain in the hills around Reykjaik: of domestic violence; family shame and loyalty.
This was a highly satisfying read; well paced with plenty of red herrings and false trails to keep me guessing plus of course it had the benefit of a strong sense of the Icelandic mentality and landscape. I also liked the fact this was constructed as a dual narrative – in parallel with the detection story we also have a dreadful, yet engrossing back story of a woman trapped by domestic abuse.
Well worth reading/listening to. I shall be on the look out for more of this series soon.
Rembrandt’s Mirror by Kim Deveraux
This is Deveraux’s debut novel. Like Tracy Chevalier’s hugely successful Girl with a Pearl Earring Rembrandt’s Mirror features a servant girl who enters the home of a leading Dutch painter and becomes their muse. The girl in question here is Henrickje, a young and innocent lass brought up in a strict Calvinist home in the provinces. Entering Rembrandt’s house (which also operates as his studio), she is shocked by his unconventionality and his carnal goings on with another servant. But she can’t stop herself watching – or imagining – and gradually she is drawn closer and closer into his world.
This is a novel set during Rembrandt’s later years which were marked by personal tragedy and financial difficulties. His adored wife Saskia who was a model for many of his paintings has died and he is struggling to regain his artistic inspiration. His housekeeper Geertje becomes his lover but Rembrandt finds her rather too much of a handful and sends her packing. It proves rather a costly move since she sues him for breach of promise and wins. But Geertje’s departure paves the way for the relationship between Henrickje and Rembrandt to flourish. I should add here that this novel is based on fact – these three women did exist and were key figures in Rembrandt’s life.
Naturally the novel is steeped in Rembrandt’s art with each chapter named after one of his paintings and several passages which give us a window into Rembrandt’s way of working.
If I’d been reading a print version, I could have looked up the paintings as they were introduced but it was impossible to do that with an audio version that I listened to while on the treadmill. Another problem I experienced was that the narrative point of view switched between Rembrandt and Henrickje but because I heard only one voice coming through my headphones I was often tripped up by the changes. That wouldn’t have happened with a print or electronic version of course. Overall I enjoyed this and I learned something new about Rembrandt. If it interests you I recommend you skip the audio option.