Ruth Rendell once again proves herself master of the psychological thriller and more. In this complex, well-crafted story of kidnapping, murder, and the depth of a mother's love, she goes beyond to provide not only suspense but genuine emotion.
THE TREE OF HANDS begins with two different, unrelated stories. Benet Archdale is a single mother and successful novelist who is visited by her mother, Mopsa, who once suffered from a severe mental illness. Meanwhile, Carol Stratford, another young mother on the other side of town, finds herself bored with life; not even a series of new lovers--the most recent, a man named Barry--can satisfy her.
A third of the way through the novel, Rendell brings these parallel stories into sudden and startling collision, then sits back and lets the reader watch the results. Her psychological thrillers vaguely resemble chemical reactions in that sense. The plot is logical but tightly constructed, and there are, as usual, some fiendishly clever twists at the very end. No author can quite match Rendell when it comes to delivering surprises.
Although one might expect madness to be prime fodder for Rendell's psychological probing, Mopsa takes a backseat to most of the story, which focuses primarily on Benet and her own moral conflict, and on Barry, an outsider who finds himself wrongfully accused. THE TREE OF HANDS is not a study of a murderer's mentality, as in the superb A JUDGEMENT IN STONE and A DEMON IN MY VIEW. It is bold, riveting, and suspenseful, but its quiet, stately prose and deeply emotional character-drawing make it a poignant story of love and its physical and psychological impacts.