A Judgement in Stone – Book Review

By: Ruth Rendell
Published On: May 2, 1977

By the end of the first sentence we know that Eunice Parchman is the murderer. In truth, the first sentence is one of the best first sentences I have read in a book. It is clear, concise, and straight to the point. I love the first sentence because not only do we learn who the murderer is we also know who she murdered and why. This novel does not question her guilt because that is clear. Nor does it question whom she murdered. What it does do is take a closer look at what led up to that moment.

This is a true psychological thriller that takes a look at the makeup of the killer – her motivations, what shaped her life, and what she did to hide what embarrassed her. Who was she when no one was looking or cared to look? But there is more to this story than the murderer. There is a family involved and this book also lays out all the choices the family made along the way. Those moments of hesitation they felt about her character, but never acted on. Moments when they had a clear choice to change the direction their life was about to take in ‘what if’ conversations.

Judgement in Stone at times feels like a mix between an in-depth TV murder investigation and the narration of the Twilight Zone with its hindsight commentary of specific events that might have prevented their deaths. At times the narrator even implores the character to take another course of action. But they can’t change the past; instead the narrator can only show us how the character failed themselves. We can only see where the victims should have listened to their own doubts about incongruous behaviors.

The majority of the book leads up to the murders, but equally fascinating were the events following. The narrator once again tells you what her downfall is, but until there is an arrest doubts linger in my head. Eunice is so smug and self-satisfied in her belief that she’ll get away with it. She has taken care of everything and the investigators are none the wiser. This is the smallest part of the book, but is one of my two favorite sections. The other favorite being any time the narrator breaks the fourth wall.

A Judgement in Stone is one of Ruth Rendell’s best, if not the best work. The psychological motivations of both the Eunice and the family were expertly portrayed. The in-depth discussion within the story at what Eunice considered a weakness was fascinating. All in all, this is a thought-provoking book that will stay with me for quite a while. I am also certain that I will be hard pressed to find another equal to it.

Rating: 5 stars

Description:

What on earth could have provoked a modern day St. Valentine’s Day massacre?

On Valentine’s Day, four members of the Coverdale family–George, Jacqueline, Melinda and Giles–were murdered in the space of 15 minutes. Their housekeeper, Eunice Parchman, shot them, one by one, in the blue light of a televised performance of Don Giovanni. When Detective Chief Superintendent William Vetch arrests Miss Parchman two weeks later, he discovers a second tragedy: the key to the Valentine’s Day massacre hidden within a private humiliation Eunice Parchman has guarded all her life.  A brilliant rendering of character, motive, and the heady discovery of truth, A Judgement in Stone is among Ruth Rendell’s finest psychological thrillers. 

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