A Dark Adapted Eye

Until recently, I never reread books. But the availability of classic mysteries has been swelling my Kindle. I just can’t resist the stray Agatha Christie, Colin Dexter, Patricia Wentworth…. Some books don’t hold up to a second read, but others… are nothing short of revelations!

I was a big fan of Ruth Rendell and read many of her books as they came out. On a trip to Amsterdam years ago, I made a point of finding the British bookstore so I could get a copy of her latest novel before it was available in the U.S. The late Ruth Rendell wrote under two names. The second was Barbara Vine. I’ve never been able to decide which voice I love more—but now I am. When I stumbled upon ‘A Dark Adapted Eye’ I thought I remembered the book, but I was wrong. What I remembered was what I understood to be the book back in 1986.

The thirty years between then and now, changed me a great deal and NOW I get the story! There’s nothing like admitting to my advanced age in a blog post, but there you have it. In 1986 I was simply too young to understand the nuances of the family history, the subtle shifts in the relationships, and the impact of societal changes on the characters’ lives.

The premise is simple—the narrator is asked by a true crime writer to help him with his book about her notorious aunt. The woman in question was convicted and executed for the crime of murdering her much-beloved sister. The contemporary parts of the story take place in the mid-80s the action of the murder—and the events leading up to it—start during WWII and end in the post-war 1950s. The narrator grows from a young teen to adulthood, and the shadow of the story of her two aunts weighs heavily on the trajectory of her life.

One of the things I remembered vividly from my 1986 reading was her decision to marry a cousin as the crime, trial and execution left her “tainted” and led her to the conclusion that only a man similarly scarred would have her. I recall thinking that was Dickensian. Feeling older, and if not wiser at least more experienced with the wide range of choices people make, I felt more sympathetic this time around and much more interested in the dynamic between the two aunts. The how & why an intense and ultimately dangerous symbiosis turned deadly captivated me with this read. And the ambivalence of remaining mysteries felt strange and satisfying now, while it confused me back then.

Um…. Getting older isn’t all that bad, right?

Three of the many books by one of favorite authors.

Three of the many books by one of favorite authors.