This Ruth Rendell’s novel, like others, present us with a cast of characters with strange particularities or skeleton in their closets: First of all two sisters, Ismay and Heather, who share a terrible secret. Twelve years earlier, when they were just teenagers, their stepfather drowned in the bathroom: only Heather was in the flat at the time, and when her mother and Ismay came back, Heather’s clothes were wet and her stepfather dead. The sisters have never talked about it again, their mother became a schizophrenic after the event, and the secret weighs between them. When Heather meets Edmund, a young man, Ismay wonders if he should know about Heather’s presumed deed…

Edmund works with Heather, and lives with his mother, a woman who exercises her power over her son by pretending she is in poor health and making him feel guilty. Edmund, who just started going out with Heather, decides to stand up to her, at 35, for the first time in his life…

Marion Melville is a woman in her early forties who loves to help old people… Mostly when they are rich and there is a chance there could be a line dropped for her in their testaments. She is ashamed of her brother, a beggar who often drops at her place unexpectedly to empty the fridge and the liquor bottles. Edmund’s mother would like to see her son marry Marion, but his recent encounter with Heather renders this scheme of hers unlikely…

As usual, between these and other more minor characters, tensions mount until the inevitably tragic conclusion. The reader assists, powerless, to this combination of human acts and simple coincidences that makes fates collide and alters lives forever. In The Water’s Lovely we wonder if the guilty will be punished and how, and who really deserves to be punished in the end. The characters are always surprising and complex, I liked how Rendell makes us change our minds about the two sisters in the course of the novel, how one seems powerful and in control in the beginning, and turns out to be weaker and less balanced than her sister.

Ruth Rendell always endeavor to make the climactic ending where the reader doesn’t expect it, but here, if where it came from was truly unexpected, I also find it a little easy… and a bit anticlimactic. She depended on something completely unrelated to the plot, which I find regrettable, since she had taken so much care building such a tight one. Therefore, The Water’s Lovely won’t rank as one of my favorite Rendell’s (End in Tears comes to mind as her best in recent years, although as an Inspector Weford mystery, it is a classical whodunit, very unlike other Rendell’s or Vine’s novels), but it is also not a failure such as Babes in the Woods, or even worse, The Rottweiler. The Water’s Lovely is one of Rendell’s good novels, far however from the greatness of such novels as The Keys to the Street or A Sight for Sore Eyes

Rating: 3,5/5