on December 10, 2014
Suspense at it's best as well as an honest, realistic "Mother love" story which never deteriorated into the sentimental.
on February 28, 2004
Wow, what a book!I laughed, cried, got angry and was totally shocked at this book!The characters are so believable.Here you have this sweet, lonely woman who is trying to balance a writing carrer and raising a child on her own.Her mother: Bitter, confused and lonely herself believes that if you lose something....that's okay..."I'll get you another one."The story takes off like a roller coaster ride and ends leaving the reader totally shocked.This book would make a great motion picture!Gary
on October 25, 2001
This book started out a bit of a "duty" read. After all, how could I call myself a dedicated mystery reader having read only one Vine/Rendell. This book won a Dagger which seemed reason enough to chose it over others by Rendell. My recollection of my earlier read (as well as the reviews of her books in general) was that her stories tend to be a bit on the bleak side. In many ways, "The Tree of Hands" is a dark and sad story.
Still, the bleakness of the story is a small price for the chance to read this intriguing tale of three lives that are at once spiraling out of control and towards each other. Most interesting is the story of Benet. When Benet's toddler son dies of illness, Benet's mentally ill mother brings home another boy of the same age. Benet is aghast but doesn't want her mother (or herself) to be arrested for kidnapping. Then she discovers the child has been abused. At the same time, the boyfriend of the biological mother is falsely accused of the boy's murder and we watch his world unravel. A third plot is added latter which is more tangentially related.
Rendell spins this tale in a way that captured even me, a reluctant reader. In one sense it was a depressing read but at the same time I was captivated and eager to read another chapter. "The Tree of Hands" is hardly a conventional murder mystery but it is an excellant example of pyschological suspense.
on September 29, 2001
Those who love Ruth Rendell can enter her world again. Enter via
Benet's world, a world about to be shattered. Benet is an author and single mother who has created a life for herself and her 18-month old son. She has managed to come to terms with her past i.e.growing up with a self-centered, mentally unstable mother and ending an unsuitable relationship with the father of her child.
Her child, James, is pivotal to her existence. She encounters Rendellesque situations i.e. being emotionally torn between her mother and child, having the one ripped away and the other intensifying the pain yet ironically leading her to her salvation, having to choose between her newly-found soulmate and the child, being torn between what is legally and morally right as opposed to what is emotionally right.
Perhaps the ending could have been better but then book endings are often not as good as the rest of the book deserves. Perhaps it is merely the fact that a good book has ended that makes one feel a little "empty" at the end.
on January 18, 2001
Rendell's middle period books are some of her finest. None of her books should EVER go out of print. Reading her is being drawn into a world you can see feel and touch and what's best she lets you see the inside of peoples' minds and souls. In this book, she describes Mopsa, the severly mentally ill mother of Benet, as well as any psychologist could, better even,in her portrayal of the thousand and one little quirks that make Mopsa a Monster. (which she is). The plot is gripping, but most important Rendell knows her characters inside out so you can truly understand why people do the terrible cruel stupid things they do, most importantly when they are doing them out of love or fear or greed. You wil not be sorry you read this book, if you like psychological suspense.
on June 19, 2000
Like most of Ruth Rendell's novels, this is a highly readable and engrossing book. It starts out as a hearbreaking tale of a mother's love but soon takes an unexpected course that involves kidnapping and murder. The story revolves around three seemingly unrelated characters whose circumstances become intermingled, unbeknownst to them, and the pleasure of the book comes from the reader knowing what they don't know. It is highly entertaining and most recommended for readers who enjoy psychological suspense.
on March 18, 2000
TREE OF HANDS has such a powerful start and such a wrenching premise that I forgave its rather (though not totally) disappointing conclusion. As E.M. Forster noted, there ought to be a law against making novels have to end.
Rendell is expert at turning the reader's expectations upside down and inside out. She'll dance on your head in this one. It had flaws, but how often are you going to find yourself rooting for a kidnapped child NOT to be returned to his real parents? Loved it.
on March 20, 1999
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.
on February 18, 1999
Probably my favorite Ruth Rendell novel (and I've read and enjoyed them all. Except for "Road Rage", which I found tedious. But that is definitely the exception to the rule!) Benet, a successful novelist and single mother, is enduring a visit from her mentally ill mother, Mopsa, when her little son takes ill and dies. Her mother, Mopsa, decides to go out and find another little boy for Benet to raise, and kidnaps a child. Benet at first is deceived by her mother into thinking that the child is the son of a friend of theirs, and that they are babysitting for a few days; eventually, Mopsa admits what she has done, but adds that the little boy had been neglected and was sitting alone on a curb, menaced by a dog, when she took him. Benet, watching news reports, learns that the child comes from an impoverished, neglectful background and, when bathing him, finds his body has been burned by cigarettes. Initially resentful and repulsed by the little boy (she originally describes him as "the ugliest child she had ever seen"), Benet finds herself beginning to love him. I don't want to reveal anymore! There are many, many twists and turns in this tale. Any reader with Ruth Rendell's work (or that of her pseudonym, Barbara Vine) knows that plausibility isn't her strongest suit--but surprises are. Her characters (in all of her novels) are some of the best-written and most believable in the mystery genre. Read this book! You won't be able to put it down.