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The first character we meet in The St. Zita Society has recently been released from a mental hospital after trying to to kill his mother. Dex just scrapes by working as a gardener in a posh neighborhood near Sloane Square in London. He has prosopagnosia (face blindness) and seems to believe that his cell phone provider, called Peach, is the voice of god.

He is certainly the oddest person in the book, but not the most evil. There are many candidates for that role and even initially sympathetic characters come under suspicion.

The St. Zita Society starts slowly, which is not a bad thing -- there are so many characters, it takes some time to become familiar with their relationships and connections. The first death doesn't take place until nearly halfway into the book.

I can count on Rendell to keep me entertained, not only as I read the book, but afterward, as I try to piece together everything that happened and figure out how I missed critical clues. In addition to irresistible plots, Rendell draws the most fascinating characters in crime fiction. They unfold like psychiatric case studies. This time, she also increased my vocabulary, with dugong and psychopomp joining the list of words I can't wait to use in conversation if the right occasion ever arises.

The St. Zita Society is her best mystery in a decade. Can't wait for her next as Barbara Vine, due in December, 2012.
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on August 11, 2012
I ordered this new Ruth Rendell book from Amazon UK because I couldn't wait for the American release. I'm a mystery fan, and she's been my favorite mystery writer for 30+ years now. I love her Inspector Wexford books, but I particularly love her "stand-alone" suspense novels. THE ST. ZITA SOCIETY is one of these.

Saint Zita is the patron saint of servants, and that is the group we meet and get to know in this dark, mordantly funny thriller. All the domestic workers on Hexam Place in Pimlico, London, have formed a club of sorts, gathering in the local pub to air their grievances about their privileged employers, and to console and support one another. But some of them are secretly more upset than they let on, and at least one of them is a psychopath. Then the murders begin...

As usual, Rendell has more on her mind than merely telling an exciting--and very bizarre--story. What creeps into this novel is a real sense of the still-ongoing class system in Great Britain (and, by extension, the rest of the world). As a strong advocate of England's Labour Party, she really has a few things to say on the subject. But she never forgets that this is, first and foremost, a suspense novel. A feeling of dread slowly builds in the reader (well, it did in me), the feeling I get when I watch a Hitchcock movie. THE ST. ZITA SOCIETY is yet another excellent example of why Rendell is one of the most celebrated and awarded crime writers around. There's no one else like her. Highly recommended.
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on August 18, 2012
I'm an ardent fan, and have literally read all her previous books (Rendell and Vine). I kept slogging through it, thinking it would certainly improve, but it did not. The characters were boring, there were far too many and we could not concentrate on any one, there was no mystery to the mayhem, the set ups were predictable--in short, if you are new to Rendell and you read this, do not think this is representative of her writing. She is about the best in the world. Don't judge by this poor showing.
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on July 10, 2012
One thing I really like about this book is that Rendell does not spend too much time persuading us to understand the novel's resident weirdo. I've had to sometimes make heavy weather of that sort of thing in the past.

There is a definite working-class partisanship to the novel; Rendell, now a life peer, has never forgotten the injustice of poverty.

I don't want to spoil the book, and I apologize for this very perfunctory review. The book is a thoroughly competent smorgasbord of knaves and fools, knives and tools. Not in my top echelon, but worthy of Rendell's name. I read it in two sittings.
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on September 23, 2012
What an odd book.

We all LOVE Ruth Rendell and read all she writes, but this was just...well, dull. NOTHING happens for 79 pages.

Characters are introduced and basically go in and out of doors. You have Rabia, Montserrat, Dex and about a dozen others. Most with odd names. And nothing happens. NOTHING. Then, someone dies.

Two people try to cover it up/hide the body. Sort of interesting but then...nothing happens. For 100 pages!

Then someone else is killed, mistakenly. Then the person who killed the person is killed in the very last sentence.

And that's it. I think if this was a 100 page novella, it would okay. But for a novel, it just is boring, which is NOT what a Ruth Rendell novel is.

I'll return for the next one. And if this is your first by her and you hated it, read A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES--it's brilliant!
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on September 26, 2012
I finished this last night, but I thought at first that not all of the book had downloaded to my Kindle. It stops suddenly and fails to resolve a number of the plot lines. I'm a Rendell/Wexford fan but this one was a disappointment.
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on October 15, 2012
I have to admit that I didn't get all the way through this book. I did read until slightly past the first "crime", which wasn't a crime. The people involved knew it was an accident, not a crime, and yet they cover it up, when there would have been at least two ways to present this to the police as an accident (which it was) and end the issue. They could have told the entire truth, or bent it only slightly, and either way, end of story.

But then, many mysteries have implausible crimes. The problem with this one was the characters. They were written as if the author was 14, and had no knowledge of the way adults think or act other than what he has gleaned from bad tv. The ancient crone in the basement watching everyone for amusememt, the gay couple who are too into being hip to give a bunny's backside about anyone else, the over 30 who thinks she will never have a romance because she isn't as pretty as a model and makes herself a doormat to compensate, the old woman who fancies herself a "princess" and fawns over the much younger actor, etc. etc. etc. The "princess", who does not appear to be senile, keeps insisting on calling modern things by incorrect names despite being frequently corrected, a "raspberry", a "canned" set of dvds. The black butler thinks only black people should exist; the muslim nanny only cares about the male child, the two girls could fall off the face of the earth. Who could care about any of these people?

On top of that, there are just these weird anachronisms. At one point,a character is told to look something up in the yellow pages, and not by the ancient crone. On top of that, she actually goes around the house looking for a paper copy of the yellow pages. Huh? In real life, wouldn't she just have smirked or rolled her eyes and looked it up on her smart phone or tablet or whatever? Perhaps the author should stick to setting her stories pre-21st century. She doesn't seem to have a grasp on the mechanics of this one, or the people who populate it.
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on January 31, 2013
I am a long-time Rendell reader, and have always enjoyed her psychological perceptions and great characters. This book is the first time I have been disappointed by her. It was as if she was being paid by the word, or wrote it while on tranquilizers. The characters were just OK, quirky and somewhat confusing (which house or family did they belong to?). But the plot was exceptionally plodding - not much happens until an accident, and then not much else afterwards. I kept waiting for something more significant to happen. Although there was a subsequent murder, the characters weren't interesting enough to make you care while not much was happening. I almost gave up on it (that would have been a first for a Rendell book), but slogged on and finished it. The ending was really strange. As if she herself were bored with the whole thing and just shut it off, leaving things dangling. So I'd recommend that people skip this book. For people new to Rendell, try her Inspector Wexford series, I have always enjoyed all of those. He's a great character.
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on September 12, 2012
I really enjoy Rendell's books. This plot was both "busy" with many characters and drawn more lightly than past reads from this author. I loved the setting but I would have liked much more detail woven in to the plot. Perhaps about the history of the characters, the houses, and the area. There are some good twists and plot turns at the end. The poor mentally ill man seems improbably free to roam about thinking his cell phone is his God speaking to him-this is a bit far fetched to me as the physician is his guardian. It does shed insight into the medical system in the UK. I read all the books of Ruth Rendell so I would not have missed it but I am hoping for a bit more meat on the plot in her next offering.
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on November 30, 2012
I've loved Ruth's books for years and what I like best is her ability to delve into the minds and behaviours of her characters, giving them a rich persona and there is often an underlying motivation and reason that drove them to commit a crime - and its usually not your typical murder motives. I read this book on the tail of reading Tigerlily and found them quite similar - set around a building with a mixture of different characters, in fact too many characters and no one is explored beyond the superficial level. What they do and how they act is explained so quickly that it is hard to develop any interest in them. I only read on because I wanted to know what happened! In this book I found the accidental murder quite shallow - covered up rather easily and the characters who did so had not an ounce of depth or interest to them. How this got past the police with no evidence, forensic or otherwise, was ridiculous. I really hoped this book would get better but it really didn't shock. Its like the plot and characters were written by a high school student. Only gave it 2 stars because Ruth can still keep my interest, even though its a lousy story. I think I may re-read the old Ruth Rendell books like Adam and Eve and Pinch me, and A Sight for sore eyes.
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