Rhoda Comfrey's death seemed unremarkable; the real mystery was her life. InA Sleeping Life, master mystery writer Ruth Rendell unveils an elaborate web of lies and deception painstakingly maintained by a troubled soul. A wallet found in Comfrey's handbag leads Inspector Wexford to Mr. Grenville West, a writer whose plots revel in the blood, thunder, and passion of dramas of old; whose current whereabouts are unclear; and whose curious secretary--the plain Polly Flinders--provides the Inspector with more questions than answers. And when a second Grenville West comes to light, Wexford faces a dizzying array of possible scenarios--and suspects--behind the Comfrey murder. Brilliantly entertaining, exceptionally crafted,A Sleeping Lifeevokes the dark realities, half-truths, and flights of fancy that constitute a life.
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July 10, 2000
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Excerpt from A Sleeping Life by Ruth Rendell
1 Home early for once. Maybe he'd start getting home early regularly now August had begun, the silly season. Criminals as well as the law-abiding take their holidays in August. As he turned the car into his own road, Wexford remembered his grandsons would be there. Good. It would be light for another three hours, and he'd take Robin and Ben down to the river. Robin was always on about the river because his mother had readThe Wind in the Willowsto him, and his great desire was to see a water rat swimming. Sylvia's car was parked outside the house. Odd, thought Wexford. He'd understood Dora was having the boys for the afternoon as well as the evening and that they'd be staying the night. As he edged his own car past his daughter's into the drive, she came running out of the house with a screaming Ben in her arms and six-year-old Robin looking truculent at her heels. Robin rushed up to his grandfather. "You promised we could see the water rat!" "So you can as far as I'm concerned and if there's one about. I thought you were staying the night." Sylvia's face was crimson, with rage or perhaps just from haste. It was very hot. "Well, they're not. Thanks to my dear husband, nobody's going anywhere even though it does happen to be our wedding anniversary. Will you shut up, Ben! He's bringing a client home for dinner instead, if you please, and I, of course, as usual have to be the one to do the cooking and fetch the kids." "Leave them here," said Wexford. "Why not?" "Yes, leave us here," Robin shouted. "Go on." "Oh, no, that's out of the question. Why do you have to encourage them, Dad? I'm taking them home and Neil can have the pleasure of putting them to bed for once." She thrust both children into the car and drove off. The windows of the car were all open, and the yells of the two little boys, for Robin had begun to back his brother up, vied with the roar of the ill-treated engine. Wexford shrugged and went indoors. Some sort of scene had evidently been taking place, but he knew his wife better than to suppose she would be much disturbed by it. True to his expectations, she was sitting placidly in the living room watching the tail end of a children's programme on television. A great many books had been pulled out of the shelves, and on a tower block of them sat a Teddy bear. "What's got into Sylvia?" "Women's Lib," said Dora Wexford. "If Neil wants to bring a client home he ought to cook the meal. He ought to come home in the afternoon and clean the house and lay the table. She's taken the children home for the sole purpose of getting him to put them to bed. And she's taking care to stir them up on the way to make sure he has a hard time of it." "God. I always thought she was quite a sensible girl." "She's got a bee in her bonnet about it. It's been going on for months. You are the people, we are the others. You are the masters, we are the chattels." "Why haven't you told me about any of this?" Dora switched off the television. "You've been busy. You wouldn't have wanted to listen to all this nonsense when you got home. I've been getting it every day." Wexford raised his eyebrows. "It's nonsense?" "Well, not entirely, of course. Men still do have a better time of it in this world than women, it's still a man's world. I can understand she doesn't like being stuck at home with the boys, wasting her life, as she puts it, while Neil gets more and more successful in his career." Dora smiled. "And she says she got more A Levels than he did. I can understand she gets bored when people come and the men talk to Neil about architecture and the women talk to her about polishing the bedroom furniture. Oh, I canunderstandit.&qu