If you expect it to begin with a murder, ultimately solved by clever detectives, think again. Someone is indeed killed, but not until halfway through; the insignificant policemen are half-witted and the murderer ultimately unmasked by the most naïve character in the story. There are at least two other major crimes and an unexpected, touching romance. Ruth Rendell, below , grande dame of the thriller, knows how to spring surprises.
There are six flats in Lichfield House. Olwen lives in one: determined to drink herself to death, she answers every question with the words "Not really." The other flats contain an elderly classicist obsessed with Paradise Lost ; a fey herbalist and her dog; a trio of girl students; a young couple; and Stuart Font.
Font is a vain, spoilt lothario who once tried to get off school when he developed a spot. His flat contains five mirrors and a double bed. His mistress's enormous husband comes for him with a cudgel while, across the road, a lonely man watches the goings-on, worrying that the intolerable heat of his house is caused by the Asians next door, supposedly cultivating orchids. Meanwhile, in the basement, the caretaker tells himself that child pornography is harmless.
Nickolas Grace's deadpan narration is perfect; no single character engages sympathy but, as their secrets emerge, they become inextricably involved with each other, and with the listener. Rendell inexorably accelerates the pace from tortoise to hare, and with wisdom, compassion and satisfactorily sardonic wit.Reuse content