Ruth Rendell: A Judgement in Stone (1977)

Four members of the Coverdale family – George, Jacqueline, Melinda and Giles – died in the space of fifteen minutes on the 14th February, St Valentine’s Day. Eunice Parchman, the housekeeper, shot them down on a Sunday evening while they were watching opera on television. Two weeks later she was arrested for the crime. But the tragedy neither began nor ended there.

I discovered this novel  thanks to a suggestion from Danielle from A Work in Progress. I have read a few books of Ruth Rendell before and liked them and  I also read one she wrote under the pen name Barbara Vine but didn’t know which to read next. It is always good with prolific writers if someone can make a suggestion. I really liked A Judgement in Stone and can see why it is considered to be one of her best. It takes a very good writer to be able to captivate a reader even though the victims and the murderer are known from the very beginning. The psychological insights are absolutely convincing. Each character is so different from the other and they are all quite fascinating. Rendell adds a lot about the British class system and her description of two completely deranged women is amazing.

Because we know from the start that the main characters will be killed the book has an eery quality. It reminded me of a Greek tragedy. There is nothing to stop the course of the action.

Eunice Parchman, a middle-aged, illiterate and not very intelligent woman starts her employment with the Coverdales in summer. On Valentine’s Day she kills them. The changing of the seasons that Rendell describes with great detail adds to the feeling of the inevitable. The narrator is very present in this story, he misses no occasion to remind us, that the people he describes will meet a certain death. This reminded me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ Chronicle of a Death Foretold.

Eunice is not only illiterate she also lacks feelings for others. There is not the tiniest bit of empathy in this woman. Since she can’t read and sees this as a great flaw she abhors the written word and those who like to read. The Coverdales, a typical British upper class family, love to read. There are books all over their house. Eunice tries to cover up her disability as best she can and gets herself in a lot of impossible situations. One day, when running errands, she meets Joan Smith, a former prostitute who has joined some obscure Christian sect. One woman is as deranged as the other. Eunice is a cold-hearted selfish sociopath and the other a fanatic psychopath. Their alliance can only bring misfortunes.

Rendell’s  book is gripping, psychologically convincing and utterly fascinating. I’m really in the mood to read more of her books.

A Judgement in Stone has twice been made into a movie. One of them is by Claude Chabrol, La Cérémonie, starring Sandrine Bonnaire as Eunice and Isabelle Huppert as Joan.

14 thoughts on “Ruth Rendell: A Judgement in Stone (1977)

  1. Isn’t Ruth Rendell wonderful? She is one of my favorite authors and now I am in the mood for one of her books, too! She pulls the story off well considering you know from the start what the outcome is. I didn’t realize the story had been filmed–I wonder if I can get either of them over here? Will have to check my trusty Netflix! Do you plan on reading another one soon?

    • She is great. I am glad you suggested this one as I kept on overlooking it. I think I still have some unread ones here that I bought years ago. King Solomon’s Carpet, I think. I will have to apply Susan Hill’s lesson and go through my book shelves for a change instead of buying masses of new books. I think La Cérémonie must be very good. They are such great actresses, both.

  2. I like your review. She is new to me, in fact I have never heard of her before. I’ll look it up for her books from now on.

    Does she still write till this day?

    • Thanks. Yes, she has written a lot and still does write a lot. Also as Barbara Vine. She has also as a series with an inspector. I have never read anything bad by her.

  3. Wow…you haven’t read anything bad by her…that’s a huge recomendation. I’ll definitely look it up. I need to read more woman writers.

    But it won’t be anytime sooner, I have pledge to stop buying books till I finish all my books on my shelf.

  4. Ruth Rendell is pretty amazing–I think she must be in her 70s and is still publishing. She is also in the House of Lords! I think even her so-so books are head and shoulders above the rest in most cases!

  5. Pingback: Ruth Rendell: The Tree of Hands (1984) « Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

  6. I absolutely loved this book…just finished reading it. I decided to go online to find a picture of the cover of the book and found your blog…hope you don’t mind me “borrowing” the picture. Excellent job on the book review. You’ve spoken very eloquently on it. Kudos for Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine! I also read A Dark-Adapted Eye, and am about to start The Brimstone Wedding. Can’t wait!

    • Thanks, Christie for the kind words and, yes, the borrowing is fine. I borrowed it as well. It’s a great read isn’t it. I’ve got The Brimstone Wedding but am still keeping it for later. Silly, I should read it.

  7. Pingback: Ruth Rendell: A Judgement in Stone (1977) « Beauty is a Sleeping Cat « Is Minerva Day a Murderer?

  8. Just finished this book and loved it, and what a great review of it you’ve written! I’ve linked this blog to mine, hoping that my readers can see the book cover posted here. I appreciate the share. I’m becoming a big Rendell/Vine fan, and post regularly about her work on my own blog.
    I am currently writing a novel that has been compared to this book, and one other of Vine’s.
    Please feel free to visit my blog:

    • Thanks for leaving the link. I’ll be visiting shortly.
      How exciting that your writing has been compared to her. That’s wonderful.
      I reviewed The Tree of hands as well. A book which has been recommended after I’ve reviewed A Judgment in Stone.

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