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I love Ruth Rendell, but found this collection to be a little disappointing.
Seven stories appear between two novellas: Piranha to Scurfy, Fair Exchange, The Wink, Catamount, Walter's Leg, The Professional, The Beach Butler, The Astronomical Scarf, and High Mysterious Union.
The long title piece introduces us to one of the most unlikable characters I've encountered in a short story: Ambrose Ribbon. Self-important, pompous, and often cruel, Ribbon devotes his time to reading. Not reading for pleasure or education, but reading so he can write letters to the various authors involved, pointing out their mistakes. At heart, however, he is a moral coward, and he will discover to his horror that all his "work" comes at a cost. Though it is well-night impossible to identify with Ribbon, "Piranha to Scurfy" is a well-turned tale.
The next seven stories are quite uneven, with some of them being rather boring. Partly this is because the characters themselves are not particularly interesting. Throughout this book, I felt it was difficult to engage with these fictional people, which is not my usual experience of Rendell.
Depending on who reads it, the novella "High Mysterious Union" may be seen as a condemnation of modern values, an eerie supernatural story, or something else entirely. Several of us had a lively discussion about it and there was little agreement! To me it was intriguing, and left me wondering about a great many things that happened in it.
Jenny Sterlin has a dark and brooding tone here that expresses the mood of Rendell's characters. She portrays a detachment and understatement so well-suited to the writing style of this particular book.
This is the first collection of short stories published since "Blood Lines." I hope audible reissues the latter! The stories are far superior to those in "Piranha to Scurfy," especially its memorable novella, "The Strawberry Tree."
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