It’s not exactly a case of Agatha Christie turning Miss Marple into the subject of a selfie, but it’s still a bit odd to read a Ruth Rendell novel that’s firmly placed – at least partially – in the high-tech present day.
Like the late P.D. James, Rendell came into her own in the 1960s when female mystery authors began to move away from whodunnits toward psychological thrillers, aka the whydunnits. Murders are never cozy in these books, and motives take precedence over methods.
A half-century later, “The Girl Next Door” features modern characters who use cell phones and drive Priuses like the rest of us. But the past still grips the main characters in this spellbinding novel. They’re all elderly British men and women who were friends with secrets long ago amid mysterious underground WWII-era tunnels. Now, shovels are digging, human facades are unraveling, and today’s investigative techniques threaten to expose a murder. Or two. Or more.
To call this novel a mere psychological thriller downgrades Rendell’s vivid powers of observation and her formidable insight into the minds and hearts of the oldest among us. While their bodies may fail, their ability to feel passion – not to mention love and hate – does not deteriorate. Just like Rendell’s own powers of perception, which remain as deep and as tinged by darkness as ever.