Ivor Tesham is a handsome, single, young member of Parliament whose political star is on the rise. When he meets a woman in a chance encounter-a beautiful, leggy, married woman named Hebe-the two become lovers obsessed with their trysts, spiced up by what the newspapers like to call "adventure sex."
It's the dress-up and role-play that inspire Ivor to create a surprise birthday present for his beloved that involves a curbside kidnapping. It's all intended as mock-dangerous foreplay, but then things take a dark turn.
After things go horribly wrong, Ivor begins to receive anonymous letters that reveal astonishingly speciﬁc details about the affair and its aftermath. Somehow he must keep his role from being uncovered-and his political future from being destroyed by scandal.
Like a heretic on the inquisitor's rack, Ivor is not to be spared the exquisitely slow and tortuous unfolding of events, as hints, nuances, and small revelations lay his darkest secrets hideously bare for all the world to see.
The Birthday Present is a deft, insightful, and compulsively readable exploration of obsessive desire-and the dark twists of fate that can shake the lives of even those most insulated by privilege, sophistication, and power.
British master Vine (the pen name of Ruth Rendell), a life Labor peer who used her knowledge of politics in 2002's The Blood Doctor to explore the personal rather than the political ramifications of power, does both in this intricate novel, which charts the wreckage caused by Ivor Tesham, a Conservative member of Parliament, who concocts a kinky present for his married mistress-a mock kidnapping that results in a mixup of identities and murder. While nothing links the MP to the crime, the elitist Tesham, with his callous attitude toward people and public service alike, realizes justice may eventually catch up with him. Vine knows "how we walk all the time on that thin crust that covers terrible abysses." The consequences for the innocent victims of Tesham's recklessness provide the book's deep and genuine pathos. Full of psychological insight, this is an absolute must for Vine/Rendell enthusiasts-and those who have yet to encounter her genius. (Mar.)
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March 08, 2009
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