Pub. Date: January 1986
Source: Borrowed from the library
Summary: When Faith Severn’s aunt was hanged for murder, the reason behind her dark deed died with her. For 30 years, the family hid the truth–until a journalist prompts Faith to peer back to the day when her aunt took knife in hand and entered a child’s nursery.
Last month I announced a new series I’m doing called Tackling the TBR. If you’re anything like me, your TBR list is a mile long! In that first post I announced the picks (chosen by a random number generator so they were total surprises for me!) and couldn’t have been more thrilled with the selections. All were novels I had been eager to read, some for years.
Barbara Vine’s A Dark-Adapted Eye immediately caught my attention the first time I heard of it. I had never read a Ruth Rendell novel, let alone any published under her pseudonym, but she’s an author I’ve heard amazing things about, that her mysteries rank right up there with my girl Agatha Christie. Naturally I was intrigued and this one in particular sounded great.
Faith’s aunt had been hanged, executed for a shocking murder committed three decades earlier. The victim? Vera’s younger sister Eden, which made the crime all the more unfathomable since Vera had practically raised her little sister, doted on her as though Eden were her own. The two sisters adored each other…so what could have possessed Vera to kill Eden? The motive and details surrounding that day (and leading up to the murder) are long gone: Vera took her reasoning to the grave and several other witnesses have also passed or can no longer remember as it happened 30 years earlier. It’s not until a journalist interested in writing a book comes calling that Faith takes a deeper look into her family’s dark past.
Here’s the thing. That summary led me to believe a child had been killed. That’s not what happened at all, though a baby does factor into everything – including the motive. So while I was a bit misled, I was still wildly excited about diving into a mystery by one of the greatest authors of the genre.
…and I nearly abandoned the book. Multiple times. At 262 pages, A Dark-Adapted Eye felt ten times longer. This is definitely not a fast-paced, action-packed read. Instead, it’s much more of a character exploration, piecing together bits of Vera’s life, of Eden’s, in Faith’s attempt to discover who her aunts really were and just what could have led that fierce bond to suddenly break. I typically love character-driven novels – and this one includes a MURDER – but I’ll admit it was a chore to read. I also had an excruciating time trying to keep the family members straight: there was the immediate family; then the aunts and uncles and cousins; the in-laws and servants; neighbors were introduced; there were even godparents mentioned. I was already struggling with the book, the massive cast made it even more difficult.
The novel must have made an impression on me, however, since I actually had a dream about the characters one night! Although the novel is a short one, it took a fantastic amount of time and effort on my part, so I’m not surprised these character embedded themselves into my subconscious.
I’m fairly disappointed with A Dark-Adapted Eye. I’m nervous about picking up another Vine/Rendell novel though I’m still curious about this woman hailed as one of the great mystery authors. As for this book, it’s not nearly what I had expected and the slow pace that I usually love made getting through this book challenging. Readers of tightly-plotted novels beware, this one leaves the ending wide open.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope
Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekbäck
Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce
A Dark-Adapted Eye by Ruth Rendell writing as Barbara Vine
Mort by Terry Pratchett
The Dark Deeps by Arthur Slade
Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar
The Promise of Breeze Hill by Pam Hillman
Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History by Tori Telfer