The Birthday Present, By Barbara Vine

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The Independent Culture

Labour peer Ruth Rendell, writing as Barbara Vine, puts her parliamentary experience to good use in a tightly-bound psychological thriller. Conservative MP Ivor Hamilton Tesham, a rising star in the Thatcher's government, has a taste for S and M.

In bored housewife Hebe Furnal, he finds someone who shares his predilections. One day he arranges for Hebe to be abducted on the street and delivered to his door - an adventure that goes horribly wrong.

Privy to his plans are the book's two narrators: Robert Delgardo, Ivor's brother-in-law, and Jane Atherton, the single friend who provides alibis for Hebe.

Jane is a self-pitying outsider both fascinated and repelled by other people's pecadillos. While sleaze might feel like old hat, Rendell knows the politics of entitlement and reputation never go out of fashion.