Ruth Rendell, perhaps best known for her twenty-one Chief Inspector Wexford novels, is also a master of psychological suspense as she has shown time after time with stand alone novels written in her own name or as Barbara Vine. The Water's Lovely, another of those suspense filled novels, is a worthy addition to a body of work that now numbers almost seventy volumes of novels, novellas, short stories and non-fiction.
Ismay Sealand has lived with a terrible secret for twelve years and she knows that, if she is to continue to protect her sister, there is no one with whom she can ever share what she knows about the day that Guy, her stepfather, drowned in his bath. Since that day, when she was fifteen years old and Heather was only thirteen, she has believed that Heather killed their step-father in order to protect Ismay from his sexual advances. The sisters have never spoken of that day but, now that their mother has gone mad and must be kept sedated at all times by her own caretaker sister, Ismay finds herself more and more compelled to finally have the conversation with Heather that will confirm, one way or the other, the suspicions that she has carried for so many years.
But as reluctant as Ismay is about forcing the conversation to actually happen, things would have remained unlikely to ever change if not for the men who entered the sisters' lives, two men who could barely tolerate each other and who would forever change the relationship between the women. The Water's Lovely is a story of relationships and loyalties, one that compares the strength of blood relations and family ties to that of sexual attraction and the security of marriage. Ismay and Heather have to decide which pull is strongest and just how much compromise they are willing to make in order not to lose the men in their lives.
Rendell has created a world filled with interesting people who directly or indirectly impact the lives of the women living in the Sealand household, vividly flawed characters who are struggling to find their own happiness and who share all of the weaknesses that we recognize so well in ourselves and those around us. This is not a fast paced thriller that leaves the reader exhausted at its end. The Water's Lovely is much more than that. It is the work of a master suspense writer with the skill to build that suspense slowly, layer by layer, sucking the reader into a situation that he wonders how he would have handled if confronted with similar circumstances. It is the kind of story that stays with its reader long after its covers are closed for the last time.
Rated at: 4.0