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'Someone had told Dex that the Queen lived in Victoria. So did he, but she had a palace and he had one room in a street off Warwick Way. Still he liked the idea that she was his neighbour.' Dex works as a gardener for Dr Jefferson at his home on Hexam Place in Pimlico: an exclusive street of white-painted stucco Georgian houses inhabited by the rich, and serviced by the not 'Someone had told Dex that the Queen lived in Victoria. So did he, but she had a palace and he had one room in a street off Warwick Way. Still he liked the idea that she was his neighbour.' Dex works as a gardener for Dr Jefferson at his home on Hexam Place in Pimlico: an exclusive street of white-painted stucco Georgian houses inhabited by the rich, and serviced by the not so rich. The hired help, a motley assortment of au pairs, drivers and cleaners, decide to form the St Zita Society (Zita was the patron saint of domestic servants) as an excuse to meet at the local pub and air their grievances. When Dex is invited to attend one of these meetings, the others find that he is a strange man, seemingly ill at ease with human beings. These first impressions are compounded when they discover he has recently been released from a hospital for the criminally insane, where he was incarcerated for attempting to kill his own mother. Dex's most meaningful relationship seems to be with his mobile phone service provider, Peach, and he interprets the text notifications and messages he receives from the company as a reassuring sign that there is some kind of god who will protect him. And give him instructions about ridding the world of evil spirits . . . Accidental death and pathological madness cohabit above and below stairs in Hexam Place.


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'Someone had told Dex that the Queen lived in Victoria. So did he, but she had a palace and he had one room in a street off Warwick Way. Still he liked the idea that she was his neighbour.' Dex works as a gardener for Dr Jefferson at his home on Hexam Place in Pimlico: an exclusive street of white-painted stucco Georgian houses inhabited by the rich, and serviced by the not 'Someone had told Dex that the Queen lived in Victoria. So did he, but she had a palace and he had one room in a street off Warwick Way. Still he liked the idea that she was his neighbour.' Dex works as a gardener for Dr Jefferson at his home on Hexam Place in Pimlico: an exclusive street of white-painted stucco Georgian houses inhabited by the rich, and serviced by the not so rich. The hired help, a motley assortment of au pairs, drivers and cleaners, decide to form the St Zita Society (Zita was the patron saint of domestic servants) as an excuse to meet at the local pub and air their grievances. When Dex is invited to attend one of these meetings, the others find that he is a strange man, seemingly ill at ease with human beings. These first impressions are compounded when they discover he has recently been released from a hospital for the criminally insane, where he was incarcerated for attempting to kill his own mother. Dex's most meaningful relationship seems to be with his mobile phone service provider, Peach, and he interprets the text notifications and messages he receives from the company as a reassuring sign that there is some kind of god who will protect him. And give him instructions about ridding the world of evil spirits . . . Accidental death and pathological madness cohabit above and below stairs in Hexam Place.

30 review for The Saint Zita Society

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Who are you and what have you done with Ruth Rendell? This is a distressingly ghastly book. Rendell's style is here and I know some of her more recent novels have been getting a bit wobbly, so I suppose I must believe that she committed the crime of this book. It improves in the last quarter but the preceding three quarters were jaw-clenchingly awful and had it not been an author I had known and loved I would not have persisted. A pastiche of Alexander McCall Smith's Scotland Street or Corduroy Who are you and what have you done with Ruth Rendell? This is a distressingly ghastly book. Rendell's style is here and I know some of her more recent novels have been getting a bit wobbly, so I suppose I must believe that she committed the crime of this book. It improves in the last quarter but the preceding three quarters were jaw-clenchingly awful and had it not been an author I had known and loved I would not have persisted. A pastiche of Alexander McCall Smith's Scotland Street or Corduroy Mansions series, it managed to be trivial and then occasionally, in the character of Dex, downright offensive - what was she trying to say, that he was schizophrenic, autistic, damaged by abuse? Several of the stereotypes were nasty (I think she may have meant them to be funny), this was wicked. The Saint Zita Society, a grouping of 'servants' working in posh Hexam Place and which makes a great title was utterly unbelievable. Perhaps it was by saintly intervention that despite this cardboard world there were, late in the book, several moments of frisson when the penny drops about what has happened, might have happened or what might be about to happen. Perhaps the most annoying thing is that this is a story that could have worked. With a major re-write and a luminous cast, it might make a decent film with characters you cared about.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Doreen

    I’ve been a fan of Ruth Rendell (and Barbara Vine) for many years, and always look forward to another of her books. For the first time, I find myself disappointed. The book is much more a social satire than a mystery. It focuses on relationships among servants and their employers, residents of upscale Hexam Place in London. The title refers to the society formed by the servants, the name referring to the patron saint of domestic servants. The club meets at the neighbourhood pub to drink and vent I’ve been a fan of Ruth Rendell (and Barbara Vine) for many years, and always look forward to another of her books. For the first time, I find myself disappointed. The book is much more a social satire than a mystery. It focuses on relationships among servants and their employers, residents of upscale Hexam Place in London. The title refers to the society formed by the servants, the name referring to the patron saint of domestic servants. The club meets at the neighbourhood pub to drink and vent about their employers, whom they sometimes both envy and despise, and their working conditions. There is a very large cast of 20+ characters. It takes some time to understand the relationships and connections among the characters. These relationships often breed contempt, misunderstandings, resentment, abuse, and even paranoia. The elite residents are usually oblivious to the feelings of their workers. The resident gay couple, for example, has come to expect one of their tenants to perform “’little jobs’ . . . staying in to open the door when a plumber was coming or the postman with a parcel, phoning Westminster City Council whenever a complaint was to be made, putting out their recycling, changing lightbulbs and mending fuses” – all without payment or even acknowledgment. When they decide to have a party to celebrate their civil union, it doesn’t occur to them to invite any servants, who are upset at “Damian and Roland’s snobbish and exclusive conduct.” In many ways this novel reads like a soap opera with a large number of people behaving badly. Both the servant classes and the upper classes come off badly; human foibles abound. The employers are mercenary, petulant, adulterous, and capable of homicide; the employees are opportunistic, disgruntled, adulterous, and also capable of murder. My feelings towards these characters kept changing; sometimes I felt sympathy for someone, only to have that emotion replaced by disgust. There are a number of problems with the book. First of all, there is not a great deal of suspense. The first violence doesn’t occur until the middle of the book, and then the disposal of the body is totally farcical. The lack of modern technology stands out. Hexam Place has inhabitants both young and old and seems to reflect contemporary London with its many cultures; there is even a Muslim nanny. However, sometimes I felt as if the events take place in a time warp: a mobile phone is the main possession of one of the characters and plays an important role in the plot, but otherwise no one else seems to have one. Texting doesn’t exist? People get their news only through newspapers? It’s as if televisions don’t exist except as a venue for soap operas. One character has a degree in computer studies and two young girls seem addicted to computer games, but no one uses the internet for news? Another difficulty is that characters seem to change for no reason. Dr. Simon Jefferson is described as “a real saint, kindness itself to everybody” and “a saint in human form” and a “kindly, genial man who was the favourite of mothers at Great Ormond Street Hospital and whom their children seemed to prefer over their own fathers,” yet at one point he inexplicably comes “to look quite different, to look in fact like another person . . . [a] judge, stern and uncompromising” who speaks in a “cold voice.” This same man just smiles “resignedly” when his driver moves into his home and basically takes over the household?! Another man is portrayed as a bumbling, ineffectual fool who accuses a woman of being a Lady Macbeth; later he plots to have someone killed? The weakest part is the ending. There is a very abrupt ending – a violent ending – and that is not surprising. What is problematic is that much is left unresolved. No arrests are made for any of the crimes. One man is deeply involved in a death and the police are directed in his direction, but nothing happens to him and there is no indication that the case is closed. There are just too many loose ends; too much is left unexplained. It is disconcerting to write a negative review of a Ruth Rendell mystery, but this book is not of the calibre I’ve come to expect from her. Please check out my reader's blog (http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski).

  3. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

    3 and 1/2 stars In my recent review of The Child's Child, I said that might be the last Rendell/Vine I read -- it was that bad -- but then I remembered this one that had come out shortly before and decided I would try it right away. I'm glad I did because it almost wiped out the bad taste of the former, even though I can say of this one what I also said of Tigerlily's Orchids: "Rendell uses one of her tried-and-true formulas here ...: Throw a group of disparate individuals ... together ... and se 3 and 1/2 stars In my recent review of The Child's Child, I said that might be the last Rendell/Vine I read -- it was that bad -- but then I remembered this one that had come out shortly before and decided I would try it right away. I'm glad I did because it almost wiped out the bad taste of the former, even though I can say of this one what I also said of Tigerlily's Orchids: "Rendell uses one of her tried-and-true formulas here ...: Throw a group of disparate individuals ... together ... and see what happens. She knows how to handle a large cast of characters ..." But that's not a criticism, as there's always something interesting in the way she handles the process. Here the most interesting individual (someone I wish we saw more of in the middle of the book) thinks there's a god in his mobile phone (not a spoiler, it's stated on the second page), but that's not even the most interesting thing about him, that being something I read about in one of Oliver Sacks's works, I believe. I happened to see one line of a review of The Child's Child criticizing it for its lack of likable characters all doing unlikable things. Though there is one likable character here (and, ultimately, sympathy, I thought, for an unlikable), don't read Rendell/Vine if likability is what you look for in your reading. Though there are a few slightly tedious parts and an event that is rather predictable, even the ending is suspenseful. I liked this one more than Tigerlily's Orchids but less than Portobello, thus the 'real' rating of 3 and 1/2 stars. Now on to some 'serious' reading ...

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas

    This is not her best work, but even Ruth Rendell's worst is better than most other people. She continues to be great at drawing characters and even in her more forgettable mysteries -- and this is one of them -- I am still impressed by her plotting. I thought her most recent, The Vault, was far better and would prefer if she returned to that more traditional body-in-the-first chapter whodunnit structure. But I'm not going to lie: I'll still read anything she writes, usually within a few months o This is not her best work, but even Ruth Rendell's worst is better than most other people. She continues to be great at drawing characters and even in her more forgettable mysteries -- and this is one of them -- I am still impressed by her plotting. I thought her most recent, The Vault, was far better and would prefer if she returned to that more traditional body-in-the-first chapter whodunnit structure. But I'm not going to lie: I'll still read anything she writes, usually within a few months of publication. In an era where it seems like people who don't tend to read mysteries are flocking to newer authors like Tana French, Kate Atkinson, and Gillian Flynn (all of whom are great), the best of Rendell is still better than all of them.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Maya Panika

    There’s something terribly old fashioned about this book: the language, the situations, the characters, even the way the pub seems to be at the centre of everyone’s social life - it all has the feeling of something written in the eighties or earlier, it certainly doesn’t feel like it was written this century. Just one (of many) examples of this is the misuse and misunderstanding of the role of the mobile phone. Having placed a mobile right at the heart of the story, Ruth Rendell then has a 22 ye There’s something terribly old fashioned about this book: the language, the situations, the characters, even the way the pub seems to be at the centre of everyone’s social life - it all has the feeling of something written in the eighties or earlier, it certainly doesn’t feel like it was written this century. Just one (of many) examples of this is the misuse and misunderstanding of the role of the mobile phone. Having placed a mobile right at the heart of the story, Ruth Rendell then has a 22 year old character desperately waiting for the paper to come out in order to catch the news. Never once does Montserrat check her phone for an update or even check her texts. All the young people are wrong, VERY wrong, they don't feel real at all. The older characters are more believable but the thing as a whole is not good. Too many loose ends are not tied up, too many things simply don't add up, too many things aren't explained because they can't be explained. I hesitate to give specific details because I'm sure there are people who do want to hear this audio and I don't want to spoil their fun, but there are far too many badly-thought out, unimaginative and lazy details in this story. None of the characters were especially well-drawn, but there seemed to me something particularly off about the minorities, those who were ethnically or mentally ‘different’. I don’t really know quite what it was that bothered me, nothing concrete, just something in the tone, something dreadfully caricature that left me with a rather uncomfortable feeling. It was just one more thing to dislike in this generally lacklustre telling of a mundane tale. The audiobook is read by Carole Boyd, aka Linda Snell, a voice instantly recognisable to anyone who follows The Archers; she does her best with the material she’s been given. I didn’t hate The St. Vita Society, but I didn’t much like it either; it didn’t rouse any strong emotions in me. In short, it was predictable, unremarkable, bog-standard and disappointing.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Bandit

    Ruth Rendell had said some unflattering things about Agatha Christie back in the day, all essentially about Christie's characters and their world being too quaint to believably produce and support violence, murder and the like. Well, quaintness is something Rendell's characters and their world can never be accused of. Book after book, year after year, Rendell has created a London so bleak, populated by such a self serving, sad, sorry bunch of individuals that violence and murder seem to be a per Ruth Rendell had said some unflattering things about Agatha Christie back in the day, all essentially about Christie's characters and their world being too quaint to believably produce and support violence, murder and the like. Well, quaintness is something Rendell's characters and their world can never be accused of. Book after book, year after year, Rendell has created a London so bleak, populated by such a self serving, sad, sorry bunch of individuals that violence and murder seem to be a perfectly natural byproduct of such existence. And yet, despite seldom having likeable characters, her books are always such compelling reads. With this one it's impossible not to imagine that the author had at some point watched Downton Abbey, found it too quaint and did her own take on the upstairs downstairs dynamic. Oh, it is set in the modern world, but the social class divisions behind it are much the same, with their melodrama and manipulations. The title refers to a self established informal society of servants from a very posh residential area. Unlike Downton Abbey, you won't much like or care about most of the residents of this fancy address, but you'll follow them all the same though their trials and tribulations with, of course, an occasional murder. There is a quality to Rendell's work, a certain emotional detachment or aloofness of her characters, it is as if they are not quite (or at all) in control of their lives, aware of it and seldom can or choose to do something about it. It's almost deterministic in nature and one can argue, as some philosophers did, that they therefore can't be accountable for their actions. And so there is a perverse sense of justice at work here as they get their just and otherwise deserts, only very tangentially interfered with by police. It's a different world, Rendell's world, different rules, you probably wouldn't want to live there, but it's ever so interesting to visit from a safe distance reading allows. Very good psychological fiction. Recommended.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    America isn’t quite the classless society that we like to think it is, but apparently, we are far closer than even modern day England. Rendell’s Zita’s Society is about a few houses in London and the people who inhabit them. The two classes that inhabit them – the servants (or not quite servants) and the employers (or not quite employers). The thing is no one is really likable. It’s kind of like a horror version of Eastenders. But it’s good. There are the affairs, murders, backstabbing. There a America isn’t quite the classless society that we like to think it is, but apparently, we are far closer than even modern day England. Rendell’s Zita’s Society is about a few houses in London and the people who inhabit them. The two classes that inhabit them – the servants (or not quite servants) and the employers (or not quite employers). The thing is no one is really likable. It’s kind of like a horror version of Eastenders. But it’s good. There are the affairs, murders, backstabbing. There are the two old ladies who are not friends but more than servants. There is the au pair. There is the over worked Muslim nanny who looks on in horror as she deals with her own horrors. There is the gay couple who should be smacked for how they treat Thea, and there’[s Thea herself who is the nicest one, but who somehow doesn’t quite inspire ones. Then there is the guy with Peach. Cynical perhaps, but thumping good.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Hall

    2.5 stars A disappointing effort from the so named "Queen of Crime", Ruth Rendell, The Saint Zita Society is spectacularly lacking in suspense and with a decidedly contrived cast and premise. Written in the autumn of her long career, The Saint Zita Society is Rendell's 62nd novel and is a strangely uneven affair which feels rather haphazard as it plods through the first third, rapidly introducing the residents of Hexam Place and their tenuous array of hired help. The names are enough to be the so 2.5 stars A disappointing effort from the so named "Queen of Crime", Ruth Rendell, The Saint Zita Society is spectacularly lacking in suspense and with a decidedly contrived cast and premise. Written in the autumn of her long career, The Saint Zita Society is Rendell's 62nd novel and is a strangely uneven affair which feels rather haphazard as it plods through the first third, rapidly introducing the residents of Hexam Place and their tenuous array of hired help. The names are enough to be the source of much confusion and hence the sketched street plan certainly comes in handy for refreshing the memory! The spoilt upper classes who reside in Hexam Place rub awkwardly alongside the inverted snobbery of the 'servants' and are almost embarrassingly overegged stereotypes. The eclectic cast of characters that live and work side by side in the Georgian three-storey houses in illustrious Westminster are a curious bunch, all more than matched by the bizarre array of staff who seem to fill a variety of roles on behalf of their employers. Local meeting place for the airing of petty gripes and sniping in the Dugong pub and it is here that the oldest of the group, seventy-eight-year old companion to Her Serene Highness, Susan Hapsburg, June Caldwell proposes the inception of some kind of servants' society as a means of supporting each other and forming a united front in negotiations with their employers. Taking their name from Saint Zita, the patron Saint of domestic servants who gave food and clothes to the poor, a monthly meeting is instituted. The trouble is there is very little uniformity between how intimate each of the staff are with their individual employers and even whether they have employment contracts. Society secretary, Jimmy is comfortable in his laid-back life driving for good-hearted paediatrician Dr Simon Jefferson and au pair Montserrat is on first name terms with her employer, Mrs Lucy Stills. Put upon Thea isn't even employed by anyone yet she still finds her good nature impinged upon by the gay men who she lodges with and the elderly widower who lives in the basement, inevitably costing her both time and money. Morality amongst the servants differs, with Rabia employed as nanny to eighteen-month-old Thomas Stills being a strict Muslim and earnest African driver, Beacon, upright and honest to a fault. Into this mix comes gardener Dex Flitch, a recently released patient from a unit for the criminally insane, who worships a god called Peach, the provider of his mobile phone. Dex looks to Peach to keep the evil spirits that he sees away and follows the instructions given through his mobile phone to alert him to those that mean him harm and subsequently slay. His reward from Peach comes in the form of free extra calls and occasional spoken messages when he keys in different arrays of numbers. Ludicrous, yes, but replace Peach for Apple or Orange and you will roughly get the gist of his beliefs. With all the hired help unwilling to make a fuss of their own situations and risk loosing their livelihoods the monthly meetings of the Saint Zita Society dissolves into petitioning the council about dog excrement and so forth, with paranoia, power games and shifting alliances fostering little trust amongst the group. Each with their own agenda, it is a risk to take anyone a face value in this novel. As Rendell sets the scene, the first third of this novel jumps between residences and is made up of a combined patchwork of insights into life in the street, much of it tedious and far-fetched. Eventually a murder occurs, but it is a long time coming. As unlikely murderer as he is it is millionaire Preston Stills does away with his wife's lover and sitcom actor, Rad Sothern. Mercenary au pair, Montserrat Tresser turns into the Lady Macbeth of the night and convinces Preston to dispose of the body, all the while seeing her own future paved in gold. However, what she fails to take into account is that plenty of other residents, all with reasons of their own to meddle in proceedings are lying in wait behind their curtains... Naturally as this is Rendell the story manages to angle a number of conveniences which place other residents and staff in dire straits of their own along the way, all combining to bring an ill wind of change blustering through Hexam Place. The denouement seems a tad rushed and does not answer every question in the way that the reader would expect, fizzling out and leaving much unresolved. Delivering a modern day suspense story along the lines of class divisions has become a decidedly more difficult task given the vibrant mix of cultures, religions and beliefs that live side by side in a thriving metropolis. Class divisions are increasingly unapparent and hold less relevance than ever before, never more so than in the heart of a modern urban city. I found it hard to identify or even recognise any of the confusion of crass stereotypes that filled the pages of this novel. Although the literary critics praised this tale for its character studies and biting social satire, readers response, mine included, was much more muted. There is an abundance of characters within The Saint Zita Society and it is therefore difficult to expand on a brief outline of each, largely because Rendell insists on giving them all their moment in the limelight. A disappointment, this novel is more soap opera than spine-tingling psychological suspense and does not come recommended.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Roger Pettit

    Ruth Rendell is undoubtedly one of the very best crime writers of the past 50 years or so. She writes two sorts of novels. First there are her orthodox crime stories of a whodunit nature. These are usually set in a Sussex market town known as Kingsmarkham and feature a police officer by the name of Reginald Wexford (who, when the series began, was a Detective Chief Inspector). Rendell also writes standalone psychological thrillers. These generally involve characters with an abnormal psychologica Ruth Rendell is undoubtedly one of the very best crime writers of the past 50 years or so. She writes two sorts of novels. First there are her orthodox crime stories of a whodunit nature. These are usually set in a Sussex market town known as Kingsmarkham and feature a police officer by the name of Reginald Wexford (who, when the series began, was a Detective Chief Inspector). Rendell also writes standalone psychological thrillers. These generally involve characters with an abnormal psychological bent that results in their committing violent, sometimes sadistic, crimes. "The Saint Zita Society" is the latter type of story. Unfortunately, it is not one of Rendell's best. It is not a bad book but it is dull and unconvincing in parts and it fails to match the storytelling quality of much of the author's earlier work. "The Saint Zita Society" is set in the intersection of Belgravia and Pimlico, two of the most affluent areas of modern day London. It tells the story of the lives of the residents of an upmarket block of houses and apartments, and of the staff (drivers, au pairs, etc.) who work for them. It is a sort of Upstairs Downstairs thriller. The title of the novel is the name of a group formed by the staff for primarily social purposes. Members of the group meet regularly at a local pub, The Dugong, and discuss between themselves the grievances they each have against their employers. One of their number, Dex, is a typical Rendell character. He is a young gardener with disturbing mental health problems and a history of violent behaviour. He believes that a voice emanating from his mobile phone gives him instructions about what to do in certain circumstances. Dex's unbalanced frame of mind and frequently volatile behaviour have fatal consequences for one character in the story. In a related incident, an accidental fall down a flight of stairs proves fatal for another of the characters and has considerable repercussions for several others. I cannot say more than that without giving away too much of the plot. "The Saint Zita Society" fails to live up to expectations. Unusually for a Ruth Rendell book, it lacks tension and suspense. The characterisation is surprisingly superficial for the most part. And the author's characteristic ability to shock and to disturb the reader is largely absent. In addition, much of the plot is implausible and the behaviour of many of the principal characters is often simply unconvincing. Indeed, a few of the characters appear to have been introduced simply in order to pad out what is essentially a very slight story. There is a gay couple, for instance, whose presence adds little or nothing to the plot of the book. Having said all that, I would not wish to give the impression that "The Saint Zita Society" is a shockingly bad book. It is not. Despite several prosaic patches, it is readable and enjoyable enough. The problem is that one expects so much more than that from someone of the calibre of Ruth Rendell. Her previous standalone thriller, "Tigerlily's Orchids", was also, for me, not up to her usual standard. One can but hope that the author returns to form with her next book. 6/10.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kay C

    This is the second book by this author that I've read (Portobello being the first) and her style is beginning to take on a pattern. She takes at least the first third of the book to build the characters and just about when a reader has given up, a crime happens. In this book there are so darn many characters to follow that it is touch to stick with it. They all live and/or work on the high-brown Hexam place. Luckily, on the inside cover is an outline of the street with the houses and the charact This is the second book by this author that I've read (Portobello being the first) and her style is beginning to take on a pattern. She takes at least the first third of the book to build the characters and just about when a reader has given up, a crime happens. In this book there are so darn many characters to follow that it is touch to stick with it. They all live and/or work on the high-brown Hexam place. Luckily, on the inside cover is an outline of the street with the houses and the characters at each home. I found myself constantly flipping back to find out who lived/worked where. Frankly, it was nearly exhausting and I almost abandoned this book. The reason I'm reading this author in the first place is to get a sense of modern English life before a trip I'm taking there. I definitely get a sense of that life which is why I'm sticking with these books. As the book cover summarizes, this is a "deeply observed and suspenseful novel of murder in the quintessentially London world of servants and their masters. The author is quite an award winner so her books definitely have merit and her writing is quite excellent if you can hang in their long enough to intimately know the characters before something happens to one of them.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    I wasn't interested in any of the mundane goings on in this book. Most of the characters didn't feel real and weren't compelling to read about. The book did pick up about halfway through, and I was angry at an event that happened toward the end of the plot, so that merited the second of two stars I gave this book. I'd be interested in trying another Rendell, but perhaps in the beloved Wexford series rather than a stand alone. I wasn't interested in any of the mundane goings on in this book. Most of the characters didn't feel real and weren't compelling to read about. The book did pick up about halfway through, and I was angry at an event that happened toward the end of the plot, so that merited the second of two stars I gave this book. I'd be interested in trying another Rendell, but perhaps in the beloved Wexford series rather than a stand alone.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Shirley Schwartz

    Expect the unexpected. It's a Rendell book so the unexpected and the off-the-wall are the norm. I love Ruth Rendell's writing. It's always a treat and it certainly is usually different than the mainstream. No one does weird and downright spooky people like Ruth Rendell and this book has about seven or eight of them. At first it's hard to keep all the characters straight but as I read, they became much clearer. This is a book about a bunch of servants that live in an upper class London neighbourh Expect the unexpected. It's a Rendell book so the unexpected and the off-the-wall are the norm. I love Ruth Rendell's writing. It's always a treat and it certainly is usually different than the mainstream. No one does weird and downright spooky people like Ruth Rendell and this book has about seven or eight of them. At first it's hard to keep all the characters straight but as I read, they became much clearer. This is a book about a bunch of servants that live in an upper class London neighbourhood. They band together to form a servant society called the Saint Zita Society. Saint Zita is a patron saint for those who serve. Sounds fairly innocuous doesn't it. Well really it's anything but. Remember this is a Ruth Rendell book. This group of rag-tag individuals do all sorts of weird and wonderful things all the way up to murder. It was wonderful to see all the various degrees of depravity for Rendell's characters in this book. And they all, with the exception of one individual, appear to be normal people on the outside. This lady is a wonderful author, and whether as Ruth Rendell or Barbara Vine, I will keep coming back to read her books.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Cyndy

    I have been reading this author for over 20 years. Mostly out of habit lately. I used to think she had this incredible way of weaving a story with characters that were so interesting. But lately she's been throwing in a little political rhetoric in her books (she is a liberal member of parliament) and it's predictable and boring. She seems very contemptuous of white, conservative British citizens, portraying them as either snobbish or incredibly stupid. Her characters that are of an ethnic varie I have been reading this author for over 20 years. Mostly out of habit lately. I used to think she had this incredible way of weaving a story with characters that were so interesting. But lately she's been throwing in a little political rhetoric in her books (she is a liberal member of parliament) and it's predictable and boring. She seems very contemptuous of white, conservative British citizens, portraying them as either snobbish or incredibly stupid. Her characters that are of an ethnic variety (Muslim, Pakistani, etc.) are always kinder, have higher moral standards and are just basically smarter than your average white British citizen. I just find it hard to believe that EVERYONE in Britain is a raving idiot unless you've immigrated from another culture.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Barbara H

    I cannot remember another book by my much-admired author, Ruth Rendell, that I disliked and returned to the shelves. The abundant characters, their numerous activities and their unfamiliar surroundings only served to confuse and disinterest me. Nevertheless, I will continue to read and probably enjoy this author's numerous books. I cannot remember another book by my much-admired author, Ruth Rendell, that I disliked and returned to the shelves. The abundant characters, their numerous activities and their unfamiliar surroundings only served to confuse and disinterest me. Nevertheless, I will continue to read and probably enjoy this author's numerous books.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sandra Parshall

    Ruth Rendell’s greatest strengths have always been her pitiless eye for human foibles and her ability to crawl around inside the mind of any character, from any walk of life. Here she turns her attention to the servants on a short, posh London block called Hexam Place. June, elderly companion to an equally elderly “princess” with obscure credentials but plenty of money, has many discontents but hangs on in the hope of an ultimate reward. Henry, a handsome young valet/chauffeur, is bedding both hi Ruth Rendell’s greatest strengths have always been her pitiless eye for human foibles and her ability to crawl around inside the mind of any character, from any walk of life. Here she turns her attention to the servants on a short, posh London block called Hexam Place. June, elderly companion to an equally elderly “princess” with obscure credentials but plenty of money, has many discontents but hangs on in the hope of an ultimate reward. Henry, a handsome young valet/chauffeur, is bedding both his employer’s wife and daughter. Montserrat’s only duty as an au pair in the Still household is getting Mrs. Still’s lover into the house surreptitiously. Rabia, a widowed Muslim nanny, is so deeply attached to her young charge that she sacrifices her chances to have a life and family of her own. These and others who work for the Hexam Place homeowners form the St. Zita Society (named for the patron saint of domestic servants) to address complaints about their working conditions. Their grievances never seem to go farther than their pub discussions because their own lives are so thoroughly entwined with those of their employers. Haunting the fringes of the group is Dex, a gardener who spent time in a mental hospital after trying to murder his mother, suffers from prosopagnosia (he can’t recognize faces), and receives orders from God through his cell phone. Everyone on the street knows Dex’s history and mental state, yet they treat him as just another servant. They’re all either too lazy or too blind to recognize how dangerous he might be – all of them, that is, except the one person who wants to use Dex’s delusions for his own purposes. In her Inspector Wexford police procedurals, Rendell produces victims promptly and gets on with the investigation, but in her psychological suspense novels she takes her time about building a little world before she shatters it with a sudden shocking act of violence. The first death in The St. Zita Society occurs almost halfway through. By then the reader will know the players well and probably have a favorite candidate for the role of victim. A body disposal debacle as grimly hilarious as anything ever seen on “The Sopranos” is enough to make the wait worthwhile, but much more follows, with the social structure on Hexam Place falling apart piece by piece from the bottom up, then coming together again in new and surprising configurations. The St. Zita Society is filled with people so real and closely observed that only one of them is easy to label a villain. With the rest, the reader may swing between disgust and sympathy – or feel both reactions at the same time. Written with Rendell’s customary grace and precision, this is not a novel for readers who want a lot of action and bloodshed, but it will reward those who crave deep character studies and thought-provoking questions of guilt and innocence.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Maxine

    The St. Zita Society is a modern-day "Upstairs/Downstairs" story, introducing us to the residents of ritzy Hexam Place, one of the top addresses in London, and to the people who work for them. The Society itself is a group formed by the maids, nannies, companions,and drivers of Hexam Place, mainly to exchange complaints about their employers. The large cast of characters can be confusing at first, but eventually sorts itself out. The neighbors consist of an elderly, reclusive princess of dubious a The St. Zita Society is a modern-day "Upstairs/Downstairs" story, introducing us to the residents of ritzy Hexam Place, one of the top addresses in London, and to the people who work for them. The Society itself is a group formed by the maids, nannies, companions,and drivers of Hexam Place, mainly to exchange complaints about their employers. The large cast of characters can be confusing at first, but eventually sorts itself out. The neighbors consist of an elderly, reclusive princess of dubious authenticity, and her equally elderly companion, June. Next door live a gay couple, with a young upstairs tenant, Thea, who, being kind-hearted, also serves as their unpaid Jill of all trades, and cares for the ancient downstairs tenant. Across the street live Dr. Jefferson and his driver Jimmy. Then there's Preston Still, a wealthy businessman with a bored, restless wife, three children, their nanny Rabia, a young Muslim widow who channels the love she felt for her own children, tragically dead, into the Still's baby; and the basically useless au pair, Montserrat. Lord and Lady Studley also reside in Hexam Place, served by their butler, cook, and a cleaning lady, and driver Henry--a young and dazzlingly handsome fellow who is secretly sleeping with both his employer's wife and his daughter. Into this dubious paradise, comes an unlikely serpent in the form of Dex--a disturbed young man with an alarming past, who is hired as a gardener by Dr. Jefferson. Dex has no friends and receives messages from God through his mobile phone. Certain events begin to unfold with inevitable results after an unfortunate accident turns deadly. Soon the lives of everyone in Hexam Place will be altered as the chillingly ironic twists of fate unfold.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Another thrilling masterpiece written by the unforgettable Dame Rendell. 4* Going Wrong 4* The Keys to the Street 3* The Fever Tree and Other Stories 4* A Judgement in Stone 3* Fall of the Coin 4* People Don't Do Such Things 3* The Girl Next Door 2* To Fear a Painted Devil 3* Dark Corners 3* Live Flesh 4* The St. Zita Society Inspector Wexford series: 3* Some Lie and Some Die (Inspector Wexford, #8) 3* Shake Hands Forever (Inspector Wexford, #9) 3* A Sleeping Life (Inspector Wexford, #10) 3* The Veiled One (In Another thrilling masterpiece written by the unforgettable Dame Rendell. 4* Going Wrong 4* The Keys to the Street 3* The Fever Tree and Other Stories 4* A Judgement in Stone 3* Fall of the Coin 4* People Don't Do Such Things 3* The Girl Next Door 2* To Fear a Painted Devil 3* Dark Corners 3* Live Flesh 4* The St. Zita Society Inspector Wexford series: 3* Some Lie and Some Die (Inspector Wexford, #8) 3* Shake Hands Forever (Inspector Wexford, #9) 3* A Sleeping Life (Inspector Wexford, #10) 3* The Veiled One (Inspector Wexford, #14) 4* Kissing the Gunner's Daughter (Inspector Wexford, #15) 3* Harm Done (Inspector Wexford, #18) 3* The Babes in the Wood (Inspector Wexford, #19) 3* End in Tears (Inspector Wexford, #20) TR From Doon With Death (Inspector Wexford, #1) TR A New Lease of Death (Inspector Wexford, #2) TR Wolf to the Slaughter (Inspector Wexford, #3) TR The Best Man to Die (Inspector Wexford, #4) TR A Guilty Thing Surprised (Inspector Wexford, #5) TR No More Dying Then (Inspector Wexford, #6) TR Murder Being Once Done (Inspector Wexford, #7) TR Death Notes (Inspector Wexford, #11) TR Speaker of Mandarin (Inspector Wexford, #12) TR An Unkindness of Ravens (Inspector Wexford, #13) TR Simisola (Inspector Wexford, #16) TR Road Rage (Inspector Wexford, #17) TR Not in the Flesh (Inspector Wexford, #21) TR The Monster in the Box (Inspector Wexford, #22) TR The Vault (Inspector Wexford, #23) TR No Man's Nightingale (Inspector Wexford #24)

  18. 5 out of 5

    Rosemary Cantrell

    I really have mixed feelings about this book. It is set in England so has a different tone to it, as do many English books. That was OK, as I find that refreshing. My biggest problem was that there were so many characters, introduced so quickly, that I had trouble keeping straight who was who, especially when the story jumped quickly from one person to another. I sometimes read a couple of paragraphs before I realized it was a different character than the one I was thinking about. The whole story I really have mixed feelings about this book. It is set in England so has a different tone to it, as do many English books. That was OK, as I find that refreshing. My biggest problem was that there were so many characters, introduced so quickly, that I had trouble keeping straight who was who, especially when the story jumped quickly from one person to another. I sometimes read a couple of paragraphs before I realized it was a different character than the one I was thinking about. The whole story moves rather slowly, but again as long as there is progress, that is fine. Sometimes, it was just slow. It took a while to figure out just what the plot line was - I am still not sure I got it all. This is ultimately a mystery, after all, so things should be revealed only a little at a time. I actually liked the plot as it got into the second half of the book, where I was beginning to remember the characters and beginning to understand their different personalities. Then the pieces came together better. There is certainly a lot about the different classes and how they view each other, even in the current time frame. It is also interesting how even within the "working" class, there was a certain bit of snobbery. At the end, I was glad I had read the book, although I wasn't so sure as I was going through. Consequently, it ends up with a middle of the road rating from me.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Shonna Froebel

    This stand-alone mystery is Rendell's latest. The plot revolves around the people who live on Hexam Place in London, primarily the servants. June, a long-serving retainer of one wealthy woman forms the St. Zita Society, a group encompassing the servants, to discuss issues that affect them. The group is loosely formed and lacks real purpose. The plot here moves very slowly and the characters are the focus of the story. June, an elderly servant, of a similar age to her employer, who shows a certain This stand-alone mystery is Rendell's latest. The plot revolves around the people who live on Hexam Place in London, primarily the servants. June, a long-serving retainer of one wealthy woman forms the St. Zita Society, a group encompassing the servants, to discuss issues that affect them. The group is loosely formed and lacks real purpose. The plot here moves very slowly and the characters are the focus of the story. June, an elderly servant, of a similar age to her employer, who shows a certain level of familiarity with that employer. Henry the driver for a Lord, who is having a secret relationship with the lord's daughter, and with his wife. Montserrat, an au pair to the Still family, who does as little as possible, but assists Mrs. Still in her affair with an actor. Rabia, the nanny in the Still family, haunted by her own losses, overly attached to her charges. Jimmy, driver to a pediatrician, who begins to assert himself. Thea, boarder and unofficial servant to a gay couple, who also helps out their other boarder, an elderly woman. And, of great importance, Dex, a gardener with mental health issues, who thinks a god named Peach lives in his phone. As the characters interact, we see the character flaws come to light. Ending on an uncertainty, this novel leaves this reader unsatisfied.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kelley

    This was another book club read, not something I would have picked up on my own. After reading the credentials of the author (I have never read her before) I was quite excited to jump right in. I must say I was sadly disappointed. I thought the title a bit confusing since the society really played a very small role in this novel. Other than separating, congregating and introducing the "servants" as the main characters I really didn't see the point of the society itself, it added nothing to this This was another book club read, not something I would have picked up on my own. After reading the credentials of the author (I have never read her before) I was quite excited to jump right in. I must say I was sadly disappointed. I thought the title a bit confusing since the society really played a very small role in this novel. Other than separating, congregating and introducing the "servants" as the main characters I really didn't see the point of the society itself, it added nothing to this book for me. Maybe I'm missing something. I also found it hard to stay interested in this book at times. There was really no main character/s that were so central to the novel that you loved them or hated them and wanted to continue reading because of them. It was all just a jumble of people living on the same block. Some of the story lines I was interested in and others I wasn't so reading the book was like a jerky stop-start process as she moved through the different story lines.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jill Hutchinson

    This latest book from Ruth Rendell, one of the masters of British mystery writing, has gotten mixed reviews but I have no mixed feelings about it.....I like it. This is a non-Inspector Wexford (her most famous creation) tale of the residents of Hexam Place in London, an upper class neighborhood where most everyone has servants, drivers, or companions to help them cope with life.......and these "below stairs" residents are the major players in this interesting and rather twisted tale where three This latest book from Ruth Rendell, one of the masters of British mystery writing, has gotten mixed reviews but I have no mixed feelings about it.....I like it. This is a non-Inspector Wexford (her most famous creation) tale of the residents of Hexam Place in London, an upper class neighborhood where most everyone has servants, drivers, or companions to help them cope with life.......and these "below stairs" residents are the major players in this interesting and rather twisted tale where three murders are committed and basically go unpunished. Lots of things in addition to murder are happening in Hexam Place.....adultery, collusion, and the St. Zita Society. Named for the patron saint of domestic workers, the Society meets at the nearest pub and we are introduced to and learn about the somewhat complicated lives of the members. It is a complex tale of how each murder affects their lives and livelihoods......puzzles within puzzles. I found it a very satisfying read.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sonny Br

    Highly enjoyable. Don’t be put off by others’ negative comments on this site. To my mind, this one’s at least equal in quality to Portobello and No Man’s Nightingale (by Rendell) and The Cuckoo’s Calling (by Galbraith/Rowling). I’m sure I’ll read more by The Right Honourable The Baroness Rendell, CBE. The quality of the characterizations, the insights into characters’ interior lives, and her graceful style highlight just how mediocre James Patterson, Michael Robotham and certain other popular th Highly enjoyable. Don’t be put off by others’ negative comments on this site. To my mind, this one’s at least equal in quality to Portobello and No Man’s Nightingale (by Rendell) and The Cuckoo’s Calling (by Galbraith/Rowling). I’m sure I’ll read more by The Right Honourable The Baroness Rendell, CBE. The quality of the characterizations, the insights into characters’ interior lives, and her graceful style highlight just how mediocre James Patterson, Michael Robotham and certain other popular thriller writers really are. Readers with incipient senility may be put off by the bewildering array of characters. But I say: no problem. Simply make a list of the ten most frequently mentioned characters, with a key fact about each to jog your memory. That’s what I always do. If you have a Kindle, it’s easy to search by character name for Dex, Dr. Jefferson, Mrs. Neville-Smith, Jimmy, June, Henry, Huguette, Montserrat, Rad Sothern, Thea, Miss Grieves...and that's not even all of them.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Shabra Bendrix

    WHAT ABOUT PEACH? Listened to the audiobook read by the splendid Carol Boyd over a two-day drive and was absolutely captivated by — as usual — Rendell’s wonderful character development and their frequent laugh-out-loud attitudes & behaviors. Rather surprised at the many meh reviews. Maybe it works better as audio? Was wondering if the concept/persona of Peach was going to play some strange, deeper role. Aside from Dex’s phone buddy, there was a unusual and therefore remarkable number of instances WHAT ABOUT PEACH? Listened to the audiobook read by the splendid Carol Boyd over a two-day drive and was absolutely captivated by — as usual — Rendell’s wonderful character development and their frequent laugh-out-loud attitudes & behaviors. Rather surprised at the many meh reviews. Maybe it works better as audio? Was wondering if the concept/persona of Peach was going to play some strange, deeper role. Aside from Dex’s phone buddy, there was a unusual and therefore remarkable number of instances in which characters were drinking peach juice, or sporting peach-colored hair....

  24. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Rendell takes ordinary people and their actions, accidental and on purpose, make very interesting reading. As with real life there are no neat conclusions.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ant Koplowitz

    I’ve been an avid fan of Ruth Rendell’s work since the 1970s, and have enjoyed almost everything she’s written, so it saddens me to say that I don't think her latest book is anywhere near her best. Her books are always a real treat, something to look forward to, and something to savour and enjoy. With the Saint Zita Society she has once again written about the world she knows and loves best: London and its seemingly endless cast of idiosyncratic and often downright odd characters. This story take I’ve been an avid fan of Ruth Rendell’s work since the 1970s, and have enjoyed almost everything she’s written, so it saddens me to say that I don't think her latest book is anywhere near her best. Her books are always a real treat, something to look forward to, and something to savour and enjoy. With the Saint Zita Society she has once again written about the world she knows and loves best: London and its seemingly endless cast of idiosyncratic and often downright odd characters. This story takes a while to get going, with the first quarter of the novel focusing on descriptions of the people of Hexam Place. I found this a bit tedious, compounded by Rendell’s trade mark extensive cast of characters and off-the-wall names. Eventually, there is a death, but because there had been relatively little earlier attention paid to this person, I felt that she dispatched them somewhat arbitrarily; any one of these people could have been the victim, as there’s no real plot drivers which focus in any particular direction. I also found the whole idea of a group of people forming a local society named after the patron saint of servants to be unbelievable. Credibility of characters’ motivation can sometimes be a problem with Rendell, and it’s very much on show here, and this is a shame. There’s plenty of wry humour, much of it targeted at the ridiculousness of contemporary society, and one of the few elements that does drive the story forward is the tensions and petty class struggles within this anachronistic group of domestic workers. Montserrat, the au pair from number 7, and June Caldwell and her ‘royal’ employer at number 6, are particularly well drawn and often funny. Overall, I was left with the feeling that Rendell had run out of energy with this book; it just seemed off-balance, lacking in focus and with the mystery elements not given her usual attention to detail. As I reached the end of the book, the story simply fizzled out, there was no real conclusion; for me then, this was vaguely pleasurable, but ultimately unsatisfying. © Koplowitz 2012

  26. 5 out of 5

    J.

    This is Rendell's third take on the Cast Of Thousands mystery, and if you have the choice, choose rather the subtleties of her Portobello, or the complex swirl of Tigerlily's Orchids, instead of this one. Intricate by any standard, for Rendell this is only a placeholder in her latest fascination, the large-ensemble mystery. Not immediately apparent is why, for three books appearing in close succession, she would chose the method here. She is of course the Maestro of the shifted-perspective story This is Rendell's third take on the Cast Of Thousands mystery, and if you have the choice, choose rather the subtleties of her Portobello, or the complex swirl of Tigerlily's Orchids, instead of this one. Intricate by any standard, for Rendell this is only a placeholder in her latest fascination, the large-ensemble mystery. Not immediately apparent is why, for three books appearing in close succession, she would chose the method here. She is of course the Maestro of the shifted-perspective story, (frequently bouncing the same narrative content amongst several individual character points-of-view), which only increases in scope with more and more characters. It is an accomplishment to shift between more than a dozen pespectives without losing the reader and keeping the characters separate and real. But nearly by definition, there just isn't a lot of room for depth while switching among that many channels. In the case of The St. Zita Society, the many cast members are yes, framed by a common locality, but distinctly polarized along class lines, with all of the usual upstairs-downstairs complications. And I think it's here we get to the point of this. Motivations and outcomes are nearly all ironic re-positionings of the usual story lines; Rendell has let herself wander down Agatha Christie street and found Downton Abbey at the end. Rather than her usual deeply disturbing dark heart of the city, she's done a scavenger hunt thru the loopy remnants of entitled britain and its none-too-impressed household staff ... Rendell has always loved the implicit meanings and dissonances in the concept of "neighborhood". With forty or fifty titles to her credit, she's welcome to try anything she likes at this point, and I for one hope she finds the hybrid she's after. I'll be setting up camp on the Portobello Road, though.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Patterson

    The workers of Hexam Place, an exclusive street of Georgian houses, decide to form The Saint Zita Society. Zita was the patron saint of domestic workers. Rendell fills the pages with psychologically damaged characters. Upstairs, we have the unhappily married Preston and Lucy Still; The Princess; Dr Jefferson; Lord and Lady Studley; Damian and Roland. Downstairs, we have au pair, Montserrat, nanny, Rabia and cook, Zinnia; housekeeper, June; chauffeur, Beacon, gardener, Dex; chauffeur, Henry; unpa The workers of Hexam Place, an exclusive street of Georgian houses, decide to form The Saint Zita Society. Zita was the patron saint of domestic workers. Rendell fills the pages with psychologically damaged characters. Upstairs, we have the unhappily married Preston and Lucy Still; The Princess; Dr Jefferson; Lord and Lady Studley; Damian and Roland. Downstairs, we have au pair, Montserrat, nanny, Rabia and cook, Zinnia; housekeeper, June; chauffeur, Beacon, gardener, Dex; chauffeur, Henry; unpaid servant, Thea. Rad Sothern, television star, and Lucy’s lover, is accidentally killed by her husband. Montserrat persuades him to cover up the crime and the two dispose of the body. Dex, who tried to kill his mother as a child, and who has been rehabilitated, is then instructed to dispose of Montserrat by Peach, the god who lives in his cell phone. Henry, who is shagging both Lady Studley and her daughter, Huguette, appears for some reason or the other. Rabia, who loves the Stills’ children too much, watches as her employers begin divorce proceedings. Thea is about to marry Jimmy, although she doesn’t love him. And so it goes. Lost yet? I was. Constantly. As much as I love Rendell’s writing, I could not tolerate the extra characters in this book. It is a feat that she manages to weave some of their lives together. The book would have been better with half of them deleted. Rendell writes another urban caper. The problem with this one is the dearth of likeable characters, and lack of cohesive plot. I am unsure why I finished the book.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Leanna

    I can always count on Ruth Rendell. Her standalone novels (which I love more than the Wexford series) are full of weird characters with morbid habits, and this book didn't disappoint. The book flap implies that Dex, the man recently released from a mental institution (he tried to stab his mother), whose cellphone service provider is a god inside his phone, is the main character. But he's really one of an assortment who make up the Saint Zita Society- a group of servants and house-workers all livi I can always count on Ruth Rendell. Her standalone novels (which I love more than the Wexford series) are full of weird characters with morbid habits, and this book didn't disappoint. The book flap implies that Dex, the man recently released from a mental institution (he tried to stab his mother), whose cellphone service provider is a god inside his phone, is the main character. But he's really one of an assortment who make up the Saint Zita Society- a group of servants and house-workers all living on the same street. As always, the characters are terrible and admirable, a mixture of evil and good. The best part of Ruth Rendell's books is watching the story unfold. We already suspect from the beginning that Dex's tendency to mental instability will cause something terrible to happen, but the fun (if you can call it that!) is in seeing how everything connects like an intricate puzzle, leading to the inevitable outcome of murder. There's more than one murder in the book, and some 'accidental' deaths, too. I loved the way everything fit together. And again, I can't get over the names of the characters- Ruth Rendell is the best at names!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kkraemer

    St. Zita is the patron saint, says one character, of those who serve, so when June decides that the servants of Hexum Place should get together to form a committee, that's the name they use. The committee, however, is plagued from the beginning: no one has any agenda items, and the single item most disturbing to June -- the tendency of dog owners to drop their small bags of poop amongst the roots of trees rather than in the garbage cans -- is dismissed without comment at the City council. They m St. Zita is the patron saint, says one character, of those who serve, so when June decides that the servants of Hexum Place should get together to form a committee, that's the name they use. The committee, however, is plagued from the beginning: no one has any agenda items, and the single item most disturbing to June -- the tendency of dog owners to drop their small bags of poop amongst the roots of trees rather than in the garbage cans -- is dismissed without comment at the City council. They meet monthly, drink, read minutes, and go home. But through their movements, Hexum Place comes absolutely alive. There are affairs and murders and accidents and marriages and deaths and children to be loved and yards to be tended and a never-ending cycle of watching each other through windows. Ruth Rendell is a fabulous writer, by turns very direct and very very funny. This is a great book.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Felix Hayman

    Oh how I wanted to like this book.And I tried.But the plot and characterisations are so appallingly thin that as the book progressed I not only got lost in the fact that there was no empathy with any character or even any liking forthe plot. A group of house staff meet on a regular basis to thrash out problems in their local neighbourhood and one accidentally gets involved in a "murder".The plot unwinds in a confused fashion till the ultimate deus ex machina in the last few pages, which,sadly I p Oh how I wanted to like this book.And I tried.But the plot and characterisations are so appallingly thin that as the book progressed I not only got lost in the fact that there was no empathy with any character or even any liking forthe plot. A group of house staff meet on a regular basis to thrash out problems in their local neighbourhood and one accidentally gets involved in a "murder".The plot unwinds in a confused fashion till the ultimate deus ex machina in the last few pages, which,sadly I predicted some 30 pages earlier. As said before I tried and tried to like this book.Is it a social satire? No Is it a murder mystery? No. Is it an observation on the upper classes in London? No. It really is not much more than a weak plot serviced by shadowy characters who, both on the surface and at depth are almost totally unlikeable.

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