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Friday, June 24, 2011

Review: 'Tigerlily's Orchids'

By Ruth Rendell
Crime fiction
June 2011
ISBN: 978-1439150344

A quiet little corner of London may look like the kind of place where nothing ever happens. But Ruth Rendell knows better in her latest stand-alone novel, Tigerlily's Orchids. Not much is as it seems, other things are what they seem, only more so, and it never pays to make assumptions.

The story takes quite some time to get rolling and is busier than a Kate Atkinson novel when it comes to following various threads: There's the young man who came into a bit of money, quit his job and bought a flat.

The main reason he's running out of cash is his mistress, who is the trophy wife of an arrogant solicitor.

Among his neighbors are three college students living off the largesse of one girl's wealthy father.

Upstairs is an aging one-time hippie who finally recognizes the lovely woman who has been his platonic friend as someone treasured from his past.

Then there is the woman who is determined to drink herself to death.

The caretaker has a reason behind his interest in taking care of a grave near the local school and his wife adores tacky attire.

Finally, there is a recently retired man across the street whose home gets warmer and warmer. He has enigmatic neighbors who spend most of their time in hiding. But one, who he has named Tigerlily, catches the eye of the hapless young man running out of money. And that's when things really get rolling.

While it may not be hard to piece together what's going on, the reward in reading Rendell isn't figuring out whodunit using the Golden Age of British detection's fair play rules, it is the way she pulls back the curtain and the way her characters realize just what's really been going on.

And, in this outing, it's also rewarding to see what happens to the various characters. Although not everyone gets their just desserts, more of those do than people in real life. And before those desserts are handed out, there are moments that are delightful to read even when the situations or characters themselves are not actually delightful. Because it's Rendell, though, it almost seems wholesome to enjoy the unfolding of such unseemly goings-on. For it is in human selfishness, awkwardness and serendipity that Rendell revels and upon which she shines an unflinching light to fascinate her readers.

©2011 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission

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