cover image Blood Lines: Long and Short Stories

Blood Lines: Long and Short Stories

Ruth Rendell. Crown Publishing Group (NY), $23 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-517-70323-6

This riveting group of stories puts the reader into familiar Rendell territory; not just the burgeoning villages of Kingsmarkham and Stowerton that Chief Constable Wexford and his assistant, Mike Burden, call their own, but the territory of the mind. Psychological twists evolve from characters who range from the mildly eccentric (""In All Honesty"") to the truly mad (""Shreds and Slivers""). Rendell's deft touch and keen insight (and sometimes wry wit) can wring abject horror from even the smallest vignette. The compulsive shopper of ""Clothes"" experiences a total emotional collapse. In ""Unacceptable Levels,"" is the caring young woman really trying to kill her lover? The longer title story brings back the uxorious Wexford and the grimly judgmental Burden who solve a bludgeoning death in their usual manner: dogged police work rewarded with a flash of insight. The true gem of the collection is ""The Strawberry Tree,"" a chilling tale filled with foreboding and graced by a final, unexpected redemption. These finely constructed and intense stories will serve Rendell's fans, accustomed to her substantial volumes like last year's Simisola, as a tasty appetizer, heightening their anticipation of the heartier fare to come in her next novel. (June)