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A Dark-Adapted Eye (Plume) Paperback – October 1, 1993
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Writing under the pseudonym Barbara Vine, Ruth Rendell departs from her famous detective team of Wexford and Burden to tell a gripping tale of family madness. Vera Hillyard is a domineering and possessive woman who strives for obsessive control over a malicious older son, a youngest son who is--or isn't--illegitimate, and her younger sister, Eden, who secretly seeks to escape Vera's grasp and instead provokes a murder. This winner of the 1986 Edgar Award for best mystery novel belongs to the genre of old murders reconsidered and the question of who did what to whom and why is teasingly left unresolved.
No other living mystery writer complains more openly about the burden of fans expecting her to bring back series characters when she has other pursuits in mind. In A Dark-Adopted Eye . . . Rendell does what Conan Doyle never could: proves she has something far greater to offer. -- Publishers Weekly
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As the title suggests, we do not always see things clearly and things are not always as they appear. Perspective changes. The book is narrated by Faith when she is an adult. She is looking back on her childhood and her time spent with her persnickety and difficult Aunt Vera. We find out early on that Vera has been hanged for murder. Faith has been contacted by an author who wants to write a book about Vera and uncover some family secrets in the process. Additionally, Vera was involved (or was she?) in the disappearance of a 2 year old girl in her care when Vera was a teenager. Some family members agree to help while others refuse. The events are reconstructed by Faith, the author, and various family members. There is much speculation about family relationships and motives. The pictured is muddied by the fact that this is a family who enjoy their secrets. Vera and her sister Eden are idolized by some and reviled by others. To give more plot details would ruin the way the story is slowly revealed in bits and pieces.
Faith is irritated by her aunts Vera and Eden for the way they start a story in the middle and assume you know all the details. The book unravels in the same way. You get nuggets of information from Faith that are not clear until later. That could be irritating, but it is well done here and builds the suspense. I also appreciate that several of the major family secrets remain secrets. If you like your book endings tied in a bow, this is not the book for you. The writing itself is superb. My only quibble with the book is that I had trouble keeping all of the family members straight for about the first third. It is a gnarled family tree and requires all of your attention. I highly recommend this book and will be reading more of Barbara Vine in the future.
Set mainly in England's countryside during the world's second war, this lengthy novel takes side trips into the times before and after and into other locales, to flesh out its characters and to add depth to the story. Red herrings abound, making for an adventurous psychological whodunit.
Just as I can see more clearly through eyes grown accustomed to available light, this volume makes excellent use of the memories of those who inhabit it, be they as clear as a sunlit day or shrouded in twilight memories and storm clouds.
Why didn't I like it?
1. There are way too many characters in it. I would have liked a family tree in the beginning in order to keep track of them.
2. Most of the book is not in the present. It is Faith gathering her memories or reading material gathered by others in order to get information for a journalist. Thus she is telling us rather than showing us.
3. Other than Vera, Eden, and Faith, the characters did not seem well developed to me
4. The big twist became apparent to me about 75% through the book. It wasn't hard to guess.
5. The book is billed as a mystery and I suppose it is, but we know "who done it" from the first few pages. We just don't know who the victim is or the reason. That is revealed in what I call the big twist.
6. The author gives an explanation of what happened at the end of the book. Again, she is telling us rather than showing us. Furthermore, some of it seemed weird. All in all, I thought the ending was unsatisfactory.
7. It was not a page turner. I never felt like I had to pick the book up after putting it down until near the end. I did feel like it became more of a page turner toward the end, but that was partly due to wanting to finish it and move on to another book.