- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Shaye Areheart Books (21 March 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0307237605
- ISBN-13: 978-0307237606
- Product Dimensions: 17.4 x 3.1 x 24 cm
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
The Minotaur: A Novel Hardcover – Import, 21 Mar 2006
Barbara Vine is the pen name of Ruth Rendell. It's odd to think that such an acclaimed and public figure as Rendell (who has won almost every mystery award in the genre) would assume a pen name, until you notice the differences in the novels appearing under the Rendell and Vine names. Rendell writes precision mysteries, as spare and gaunt as an iron fence. But Vine is Rendell's exuberant other half. Vine thrillers are almost rococo in the expanse of plot and character, skirting close to self-indulgence at times. In the latest Vine, a Swedish nurse named Kirstin Kvist looks back at the central mystery of her life, something that happened back in the 1960s, when she journeyed to crumbling Lydstep Old Hall in Essex, England, to care for a melancholy 39-year-old man with a puzzling ailment. The tale starts as a medical mystery, with Kvist trying to determine what is wrong with the heir to the family fortune. It segues into a Victorian novel of manners when Kvist discovers a plot to wrest the fortune away, a plot that predictably leads to murder. This is very satisfying reading, a sort of blend of Edgar Allan Poe and Anthony Trollope. Readers of both Rendell and Vine will love this expansive excursion. Connie Fletcher
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“One of the most remarkable novelists of her generation.” —People
“The best mystery writer in the English-speaking world.” —Time
“My dream writer. Her crime studies are subtle, mysterious affairs that never turn out quite the way you anticipate. Her characters have secret, often ugly depths that make them strangers with uncomfortably familiar features. And her prose style, so intricate in design and supple in execution, has the disquieting intimacy of an alien touch in the dark.” —Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review
“Surely one of the greatest novelists presently at work in our language.” —Scott Turow
“Those who haven’t read her books have missed something unique and wonderful.” —Tony Hillerman
“Barbara Vine has transcended her genre by her remarkable imaginative power to explore and illuminate the dark corners of the human psyche.” —P. D. James
“Unequivocally the most brilliant mystery writer of our time. She magnificently triumphs in a style that is uniquely hers and mesmerizing.” —Patricia Cornwell
“Her clear, shapely prose casts the mesmerizing spell of the confessional.” —The New Yorker
“One of the finest practitioners of her craft in the English-speaking world.” —The New York Times Book Review
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The creepy tone of the book is established from the first description of the vine-covered house looking like it's breathing because of the wind, and continues to the creative use of a library in the shape of a labyrinth (I want one). Without the annoying presence of the narrator, this would probably have been one of Vine's best.
Unfortunately The Minotaur, while satisfying, is not on the same level as Vine's earliest work. This book contains many of Vine/Rendell's signature plot elements: a character from Scandinavia, a dysfunctional family, psychologically disturbed individuals, other individuals who are autistic, and an East Anglian setting with one or more old houses covered in Virginia creeper. In The Minotaur these characters and settings aren't as well developed and tend to be more stereotypical than illuminating. The story also doesn't jump back and forth from the past to the present quite as much as other Vine works do. Some readers might like that, but one of the things I myself find most appealing about Vine is that shift from time period to time period.
Despite these disappointments, I did enjoy The Minotaur. It is a satisfying little mystery which in typical British fashion leaves much unsaid and the reader with much to sort out for himself. I also liked the glimpses back to British life in the late 1960s and the comparisons with life thirty five years or so on.
I recommend The Minotaur unreservedly for Vine/Rendell veterans. If you are just discovering Barbara Vine, you will get a more developed introduction to her work by first reading the two books I mentioned above or by reading some similar in spirit Rendell works like The Crocodile Bird or A Sight For Sore Eyes.
The true star of this book is the Swedish nurse, Kerstin Kvist, who puts up with a great deal with understated courage and without losing a hair out of place. Almost not to be outshone is her charge, the grossly over-medicated John Cosway, who we know, from the very beginning of the book, somehow manages to make a getaway to a villa in Italy, there to live the life he has always dreamed. But how on earth does he manage to escape the over-medicating doctor, the demented mother and the four damaged - and somewhat dangerous - sisters? (And not forgetting the love-lorn vicar or the long-lost maze which, somehow, holds the secret to all of this.)
I truly enjoyed this book. It is one of Vine's better books, almost as enjoyable as Asta's Book. Highly recommended. The reader is always on edge, waiting for something in that horrible damp, cold house to go terribly awry - which, naturally, it eventually does.