One day 13 year old Heather walks down the stairs of her house clothes dripping wet and a dead step-father in the bath. No one ever asks Heather what happened, her sister, Ismay, and her mother, Beatrix, just tell the police he must have drowned while they were out because he was too weak from flu to save himself and there was no one to help him. Their story isn’t questioned and life goes on. Unfortunately for the whole family, this event casts a shadow on the rest of their lives, for Ismay and her mother believe that Heather must have drown her step-father to halt his untoward advances to Ismay. Ismay believes that her sister Heather loves her so much that she would do anything to protect her. This colours the family’s attitude towards Heather. Beatrix loses her mind and must be cared for by her sister Pamela and Heather is, despite being well loved, always handled carefully as if she is a bomb about to go off.
The story picks up at a point where all four women are living in the house together, but in two separate flats. Enter Andrew, Ismay’s over-bearing, self-centred, demanding boyfriend who refers to Heather as a gorgon and Beatrix as a crazy. Ismay, however, is so in love with him that she would do anything to keep him. So when Andrew takes a dislike to Heather’s new boyfriend, Edmund, life becomes difficult for Ismay who is torn between her love for and fear of Heather and her adoration of Andrew. There’s also the problem of Edmund and the question as to whether or not he should be told the tale of their step-father and if so, which version, the official, or the hidden version. Ismay begins to realize that they’ve past the point where their little family unit could close ranks and hold life together. The past is refusing to stay buried and the time is coming when she must confront the truth.
Although the story centres on Heather’s past and the question of did she, didn’t she, there is a lot more to it than that. Rendell also brings in Edmund’s mother and her friend Marion. The one is an overbearing hypochondriac and the other is nothing short of criminal in her bid to find easy money by making a living off of others. The third-person omniscient narration gives the reader the feeling that he is privy to a microscopic inspection of one family and all the people associated with them. It almost feels voyeuristic. It’s also a little like surfing the internet when you keep finding interesting links to go to, but still return to the main focal point every so often, which prevents you from losing cohesion between the parts. The difference being that you’re surfing through people’s lives and not just through information links.
The story is well written and I’ll add that the narrator, Rosalyn Landor, was brilliant. If this is your sort of book, then you’ll love it. Personally, this isn’t the kind of thing I normally go in for and although I thought well of it, I won’t be looking for more of the same just because it isn’t my thing. Since it is what it is though, I give it a 4 out of 5. After all, you can’t penalize a well written book just because you don’t care for the genre.