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The Lake of Darkness by Ruth Rendell

I follow a few authors who use pen names to explore other parts of their writer’s identity or psyche. There’s Joyce Carol Oates (aka Rosamond Smith and Lauren Kelly), Stephen King (aka Richard Bachman), and Ruth Rendell (aka Barbara Vine). I was first introduced to Ruth Rendell through a Barbara Vine book, King Solomon’s Carpet, when I began going through my subway obsession, which is ongoing. My friend Tamsin recommended the book, and I had to buy a tatty paperback copy off eBay because my library didn’t have the title. A big part of the book has to do with the London Underground, and the detail that has stuck with me is the amount of hair that clots in the tunnels–human hair–and has to be cleaned out regularly.

I was waiting for the second Felix Castor book to come in at the library and found myself without reading material, so I picked up Ruth Rendell’s The Lake of Darkness. Rendell, the proper name of the author, writes mysteries and tight suspense novels while Vine seems to deal with more macabre and gothic topics.

In The Lake of Darkness, Martin Urban is an upper-class Londoner who has always been lucky; it seems to follow him around. He has recently become reacquainted with an old school buddy whom Martin believes to be a homosexual and has a few peculiar fantasies about. This friend introduces Martin to the football pools, which he wins, and rather than selfishly spending the money on himself, Martin decides to disperse it among those who are less fortunate but according to his stipulations. Shockingly, Martin finds it rather difficult to give the money away.

The people Martin randomly touches touch him back and sometimes in ways he does not expect. Finn has a strong interest in the occult through his mother and works as a handyman; sometimes, too, he works as a contract killer, though he has bungled most of his commissions in one way or another. Finn’s mother is one of the unfortunates that Martin aims to help, but Finn hopelessly misunderstands Martin’s intent and acts in ways Martin could never imagine.

Rendell’s talent is neatly tying up the story she creates while making none of the coincidences or misunderstandings feel artificial or forced. Her plots and characters click neatly into place until you can see no other way for the story to end. I always notice this with the Rendell titles; endings are a looser ball of stuff in the Vine novels I’ve read.

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