My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I loved this book and read it in one afternoon. It is not a conventional murder mystery because we know at the start of the novel who committed the crime and why. The action begins when a biscuit tin is found in the foundations of a house built post WWII. This tin contains a mummified pair of hands that appear to have been in the tin for 70 years.
Alan Norris, now in his 70’s, reads about the hands’ discovery in the newspaper and connects them to the location they were discovered to the qanats, or tunnels he and his friends used to play in during the war. He and his wife, Rosemary (who was a childhood friend) contact their former tunnel buddies and meet to discuss what they can remember about their time playing in the tunnels. They also contact the police officer in charge of the case, who shows little interest in their memories or in solving the 70 year old case.
After the old friends have been brought together, chaos ensues in their personal lives. Rendell skillfully takes the reader through the characters’ lives as they change irretrievably as the mystery of the hands is eventually solved by the police with the help of a few of the main characters.
Several aspects of this novel contributed to my enjoyment. First, Rendell’s main characters are all unapologetically elderly. This does not prevent them engaging in illicit love affairs, attempting murder or even adopting a puppy. Life goes on even if the future seems short. Second, Rendell does not create stereotyped characters. The very elderly “char woman” in her late ’80’s is as intelligent and sharp as the other characters who have more impressive careers. Third, the novel tackles difficult issues such as ageing, illness, grief, love and loss in a sensitive yet unsentimental manner. Rendell is never easy on her characters. They frequently have a torrid time. The good are not always rewarded and the bad often get away with little punishment. Her novels are never predictable.
The large cast of characters is sometimes difficult to follow and perhaps a few could have been eliminated. Apart from this, I liked the novel and would recommend it to anyone wanting an entertaining read.