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Bertie

A Fatal Inversion

This is my very first book by Barbara Vine. So many people rate her books and I knew I ought to try something by her because it was quite likely that I would too. I just never got around to it. That I planned to is plain because I've had A Fatal Inversion on my tbr mountain for a while now and, as is the way of things sometimes, it was suddenly time to read it, though I can't for the life of me say why.




Rather a complicated plot this... let's see... Adam Verne-Smith is nineteen when he inherits Wyvis Hall (in Suffolk) from his uncle Hilbert. It's completely unexpected, his father, Lewis, was certain he would get the house and the disappointment when he didn't was profound. Adam decides to go down to the house during the summer holidays and his close friend, Rufus, drives him. Rufus is slightly older, a third year medical student, Adam is a linguist. The year is 1976 and the main preoccupations of both men are drink, drugs and women.

Fast forward ten years (and the actual start of the book) and the current owner of the house is burying a much loved pet, in the pet cemetary in the woods surrounding the house. Instead of burying their dog they find bones - a human skeleton - an adult and that of a baby.

Adam is away on holiday with his wife and daughter when the news breaks, his father meets him at the airport to tell him all about it. From that point on it's accepted that Adam knows who the bodies are and how they got there. Rufus, now a consultant surgeon, but not in contact with Adam, also knows. The other person aware of the happenings of that summer is Shiva, of British/Indian heritage, who was also there that summer with Vivian, a new-age hippy type. The only other person there at the time was Zosie, a girl Rufus picked up at the station some days after their arrival at the hall.

This is the long hot summer of 1976 and, although several of them are keen to go to Greece for the summer, none of them have any money and slowly but surely it's decided that they will stay at Wyvis Hall. They sell antiques from the house for food, drink and drugs, and Zosie steals things.

Back in the present day (1986/7) it's revealed that the body is that of a female aged 17 to 20, and the child, a young baby girl. The present day Adam can do nothing but wait and watch as the police start to investigate the crime. He is nervous and terrified and this of course affects his family life. Rufus is more laid back about the situation but his life is not perfect either, and neither is Shiva's. The lives of all three were severely affected by the events of that long hot summer, in ways that are only slowly revealed.

A cracking good read this one. It's one of those crime novels where you more or less know who did it right from the start. Less clear in this story is who is dead, though the potential list is very short. More interesting is the 'why' and the 'how'. Truthfully, they're not a very pleasant bunch of characters inhabiting this book; they're mostly shallow and hedonistic with no morals at all. Barbara Vine is superb at depicting these awful people without being judgemental. Hers is very much a 'this is how it was, make up your own mind' style of writing. She's also superb at drip feeding little snippets of information to the reader as she hops back and forth between the two timelines. And thus you slowly build a picture of events, make guesses about what happened, only to be proved completely wrong! Until the end approached I had no idea who the dead woman and child were... once I knew, I saw the final twist coming, I must admit, but it was very nicely done. The setting of the book is also beautifully done. The hall in Suffolk with its dark and menacing woodlands is like a character in its own right. A claustrophobic world where you easily imagine anything happening...

Now that I've taken the plunge and actually read a Barbara Vine, I definitely plan to read more. I like this kind of psychological crime yarn and she clearly does it very well indeed. I gather another good one is Asta's Book, which I don't have, but I do have The Blood Doctor and No Night is too Long which are on my 'read sometime this year' list.

Comments

I used to read everything by Barbara Vine, but for some reason got out of the habit. I like her writing more as BV than I do as Ruth Rendell. But I recently got The Chimney Sweep's Boy free with a magazine, and read it over a weekend -- and was very disappointed. The ending was lame and could be seen coming a mile off. It lacked the usual creepiness Vine does well.
Do you think some authors (maybe *all*) have a shelf-life? Possibly not a shelf-life for every reader but maybe just for certain people. Hmmm... I know there are authors I've tired of, and not always for any good reason.

The Chimney Sweep's Boy was one I saw mention of and thought about getting so thanks for the heads up. I'll doubtless use the library to get hold of the ones I decide to read (apart from those I already have) so it won't matter too much if I don't care for them. And I've not been tempted by her RR stuff so far.
I recommend 'A Dark-Adapted Eye' as her best.

I liked Fatal Inversion, but spent much time wanting to kick the characters up the bum.
I agree with you about Fatal Inversion! It was like a train wreck... you could see something dreadful coming but couldn't look away because you had to see what these awful kids would do next.

Thanks for the rec. I've made a note and passed it on to several others who're interested.
What I'd also recommend about Vine is she is a masterclass in how to write flashback - Dark-Adapted Eye deftly shifts from the 40s-50s to the 'real-time' narration of the seventies narrator, with nary an anvil except that she makes it clear through the writing.