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‘The Water’s Lovely’ by Ruth Rendell

(Hutchinson, $36.99)once, when I was out on a tourist launch on the Great Barrier Reef, the Ruth Rendell book I was reading slipped out of my hands and into the water below. “Ruth Rendell overboard!” I cried, at which some swarthy chap dived into the ocean to save her. of course, he thought she was a paying customer and was quite cranky to find out she was just a book. Philistine.

Ruth’s latest, The Water’s Lovely, is another book worth rescuing, and a much better title for a tome that might slip into the drink, don’t you think? Almost worth flying to Queensland and doing it all over again.

Anyway, sisters Ismay and Heather haven’t talked about the death of their stepfather nine years before, even though Ismay suspects Heather of drowning him in the bath. They’re close, the sisters, but as in many Ruth Rendell stories, this little not-mentioning-the-drowning glitch is going to drive them apart and it’s up to we readers to bite our fingernails figuring out how.

Ruth develops off-kilter characters as expertly as ever. There are a couple of truly hideous folk in this book, and even the nicer ones aren’t that nice. Don’t be fooled if they seem to be normal at the beginning either – quite a few characters start out seeming one way but quickly unravel.

The Water’s Lovely is a bit of a slow burner but then Ruth Rendell – or Baroness Rendell of Babergh as she is known in England’s House of Lords – is about to turn 77 and has written more than 60 books. She’s allowed to wind it back a notch or two, if you ask me, and for the whodunnit, or whydunnit, fans among us, nothing is lost as a result.

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