Ruth Rendell must be one of the most frustrating authors working in the mystery genre, a woman of considerable talent who seems to go out of her way to undercut her own ability. And A NEW LEASE OF DEATH is rather typical of her work: there is little in the way of plot, and what plot there is is repeatedly swamped by Rendell's determination to expose the psychology of her characters--psychology which is often far-fetched and which seldom has anything to do with anything else in the book.
As the novel begins, Chief Inspector Wexford recalls his first murder case: the ax murder of an elderly woman. Fortunately for the then-inexperienced Wexford, the case was remarkably straight-forward; the woman's handyman was obviously guilty. But now, some fifteen years later, a Vicar named Archery has requested an interview with Wexford about the case, and when he arrives he wants to know if there was even a remote possibility that the man convicted was innocent after all. When Wexford negates the idea, Archery sets off on his own to interview the various people connected with the case, hoping to prove Wexford wrong.
The premise is much more interesting than the novel itself. The book opens with no less than two full chapters of exposition--and then Rendell's oddities take over, knocking herself out to expose the psychology of her characters, whether such has any bearing on the story or not. As for the mystery itself... Rendell writes and presents the story exactly as if she were creating a murder mystery, but there is no mystery, none at all, just a series of revelations that arise through pure coincidence and lead every one to some very obvious conclusions about everything from the crime itself to the way in which their lives have been affected by it.
There are a great many people who admire Rendell's novels, but while I recognize her stylistic skills I find her chiefly memorable as a mystery novelist whose novels either have a foregone conclusion or no conclusion at all. The book is readable--Rendell's style is very driving. But if you actually want to read a murder mystery that has any element of mystery to it, you'd do better to go with a different writer.
--GFT (Amazon Reviewer)--