Having just moved into a house in a desirable part of London, Carl Martin is one lucky guy. The house, inherited from his recently deceased father to whom he was not especially close, is spacious enough for Carl to be able to let the top floor to a tenant of his choosing. Dermot McKinnon, he decides, will fill the bill nicely.
Carl is fortunate in other ways as well. His first novel, Death’s Door, has just been published and has been well received. And to top it all off, he has Nicola, his openhearted and beautiful girlfriend.
As Dark Corners opens, these various benevolent elements of Carl’s life are nicely in place and he is just setting to work on his next book. There is but one dark cloud on the horizon: money is at the moment tight. But with Death’s Door selling nicely, and rent money coming in, that shouldn’t be a problem for very long.
But a lack of funds, even if temporary, makes some people very uneasy. It can be a powerful motivator. And motivates Carl to do something he should not have done. And the ramifications of this fateful act…well, read the book and they will gradually become known to you.
There is a parallel subplot involving a character named Lizzie Milsom. Lizzie is a cheerful and inventive liar; moreover, she’s a type that I recognized from other Rendell novels of psychological suspense. (See Joan Smith, a far more evil prototype, in A Judgement in Stone.) Perhaps for this reason, I found Lizzie’s presence in the narrative rather less than compelling Her fate was of much less interest to me than Carl’s. She does serve a purpose in his story, though, through a significant coincidence which I wasn’t sure I found entirely convincing.
In sum, I would say that this is not in the first rank of this author’s work, but I still enjoyed it. It was short, tightly wound, and thoroughly engrossing. Most of all, it’s characterized by that mounting sense of dread that generates such powerful suspense in so many of Rendell’s novels.
The title comes from a description that Carl recalls from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure: “the duke of dark corners.” The entire phrase is “the old fantastical duke of dark corners.” With its hint of sinister import, it’s exactly apt.
Dark Corners is the final work from the pen of this unique and supremely gifted writer. It saddens me to see her picture on the back cover and beneath it the dates, 1930-2015. Still, I am grateful that she lived and wrote – and that she was as prolific as she was brilliant.
I shall be reading her, and rereading her, for a long time to come.