The St. Zita Society takes up residence in a picturesque London street and ever so slowly and delicately eviscerates the pretentious upper-middle-class residents…as often happens in Rendell’s novels of psychological suspense, characters are undone by their own obsessions. But these meltdowns are executed with such stealth and subtlety that the psychic cracks aren’t visible – until suddenly they are.”—Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review
“Written with Rendell’s
customary grace and precision…[ The St. Zita Society] will reward those who crave deep character studies and thought-provoking questions of guilt and innocence.”—Sandra Parshall, Washington Independent Review of Books
“The prolific Rendell, the author of more than 60 works of fiction and
a master of well-paced suspense and insight, has again written a novel that inspires grim smiles and great shocks.”—Jay Strafford, Richmond Times-Dispatch
…one of Britain’s leading crime writers turns her attention to orchestrating the tangled and secretive lives of masters and servants on a London street.”—Jimmy So, Upstairs, Downstairs in sordid hyper-drive The Daily Beast
another gem… The St. Zita Society is both a sex comedy and a social satire, of the ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ variety, with a few murders mixed in for our added delight.”—Patrick Anderson, The Washington Post Book World
“A gripping portrayal of the London world of servants and their masters, all marching toward an inevitable—and violent—conclusion…
The St. Zita Society, a brilliantly crafted novel of psychological suspense, further enforces [Rendell’s] rightful place as the queen of British mystery writing.”—Kerry McHugh, Shelf Awareness
“Rendell, an expert craftsman, has delivered the goods again.”—Muriel Dobbin,
The Washington Times
“A modern, murderous take on the relationship between master and servant in modern England.”—Susannah Cahalan,
The New York Post
“A trip down a road so twisted that only a guide as skillful as Rendell could navigate it without a false step.”—Elly Griffiths,
“Rendell’s offbeat characters will stay with you long after you have closed the book.”—Salem Macknee,
Hilariously funny throughout, with a chilling twist at the end that pays homage to Daphne du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now. Every character is sharply drawn and three-dimensional, every situation credible no matter how unlikely or coincidental.”—Robert Croan, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“This novel radiates tension…Rendell creates characters that seem to forsake the page of a Kindle or a Nook, and live beyond the borders of her novels.”—Stephen Anable,
“[A] masterwork…dark, intelligent and intriguing.”
Downton Abbey with a higher body count.”
If you're unfamiliar with Ruth Rendell, if you've somehow managed to miss her 60 or so books, if you've never experienced the frisson produced by her unique blend of elegant prose and brutal plotting or laughed out loud at her acidic humor or social observations, then congratulations: Your reading life is about to get infinitely richer… As with Patricia Highsmith, Rendell is a brilliant if detached observer of all levels of society… Like Charles Dickens, Rendell writes about contemporary London crime, but no one would call Dickens just a mystery writer. Rendell's work is too great, too thought-provoking and too important to be pigeonholed. The only mystery is why everyone doesn't know it.
It's a pleasure to report that Ruth Rendell, at the age of 82 and after publishing more than 60 books, has given us yet another gem. A pleasure but not a surprise, since Rendell…has for years, along with her friend P.D. James, been bringing new sophistication and psychological depth to the traditional English mystery.
The St. Zita Society is both a sex comedy and a social satire, of the Upstairs Downstairs variety, with a few murders mixed in for our added delight. Patrick Anderson
As often happens in Rendell's novels of psychological suspense, characters are undone by their own obsessions. But these meltdowns are executed with such stealth and subtlety that the psychic cracks aren't visibleuntil suddenly they are. So there will be blood and tears, but in unexpected quarters. Ever perverse, Rendell will snatch happiness from the nicest character and give some lowlife another chance. But let's be fair: she won't let anyone get away with murder.
The New York Times Book Review
A gardener believes he’s hearing the voice of God on his cellphone. A chauffeur is bedding his employer’s wife and daughter. A sexual affair is morphing into murder. And the help of a London street, Hexam Place, meet to drink and grouse at a nearby pub as they inaugurate what they call the St. Zita Society—a kind of freewheeling union named after the holy patron of servants. In Hexam Place live Montserrat, the insolent au pair to the haughty Stills family, and the Stills’ nanny, Rabia, who’s besotted with the little boy she tends. Here, too, are the 82-year-old Princess Susan Hapsburg and her tenant/companion, the resentful June. In this neighborhood, children wear Chanel sneakers, but get little love, and champagne is known as “The Drink That Is Never Wrong.” This novel radiates tension, sweeping along as the clandestine gets exposed, and a killer and an accomplice brainstorm about stashing a body. Rendell creates characters that seem to forsake the page of a Kindle or a Nook, and live beyond the borders of her novels: readers wonder how they’re faring in prison or in mourning.While delineating a dozen or so characters, Rendell makes each sufficiently viable to intrigue her audience and clash with one another. She is equally artful when evoking her settings, be it this gilded urban enclave, Inspector Wexford’s Kingsmarkham, a commune in a country house in A Fatal Inversion, or the unspecified seaport in Talking to Strange Men. As Britain has changed—in terms of diversity, technology, slang, fashion, and even take-out food—Rendell has maintained an insightful and often satiric commentary about it all. Written under her name or as Barbara Vine, the best of her work—Going Wrong, King Solomon’s Carpet, The Keys to the Street, The Birthday Present, and this fine novel—read like vintage Evelyn Waugh or Muriel Spark, informed with a psychological subtlety worthy of Iris Murdoch. One-quarter through this book, one man calls Monserrat a psychopomp, “a conductor of souls to hell.” Indeed, Rendell has functioned as a kind of psychopomp, conducting her fictional killers to hell—while ensuring that her readers enjoy the trip. More Americans ought to book a passage. Stephen Anable is the author of The Pinchbeck Bride (2011), published by Poisoned Pen.
London's Hexam Place looks imperturbably classy, but it's not. The valet to Lord Studley is sleeping with both the lord's wife and his daughter, for instance, while a housekeeper wants to form a "society" of disgruntled servants and Dex the gardener is getting ghostly instructions on his cell phone that could lead to violence. More thrills from three-time Edgar Award winner Rendell.
Rendell's 62nd novel is a highly characteristic anatomy of the many varieties of servitude--some stifling, some nurturing, some murderous--along posh Hexam Place, Knightsbridge. The members of the St. Zita Society, named after the patron saint of domestic servants, serve functions as wide-ranging as their personalities. June Caldwell has done for Her Serene Highness, Princess Susan Hapsburg, for nearly 60 years. Dex Flitch, who worships Peach, the god who speaks to him over the telephone, is the gardener for Dr. Simon Jefferson and his neighbor Ivor Neville-Smith. Jimmy, the St. Zita's chair, is Neville-Smith's driver. Thea, whom Jimmy loves, doesn't think of herself as a servant at all, since Roland Albert and Damian Philemon, the gay couple who depend on her to manage every detail of their lives, don't pay her a penny. Henry Copley, Lord Clifford Studley's driver, is having it on with both his employer's wife and daughter. Rabia Siddiqui is nanny to Preston and Lucy Still's baby, but Montserrat Tresser, as it turns out, is much more than the Stills' au pair. Inevitably violence breaks out among the members of the society, leaving Montserrat and insurance magnate Preston Still in uneasy thrall to one another. But although DC Colin Rickards makes the usual inquiries, the sardonic focus of the sequel is on the plodding round of life cycle events, promises of new romantic relationships and monthly meetings in which the St. Zita's members ponder the problem of canine waste disposal and inquire who's been invited to Roland and Damian's wedding. Over her last several outings (
Tigerlily's Orchids, 2011, etc.), Rendell has been returning to the stripped-down dyspepsia of her earliest work, adding freak-show sociology to her velvet nightmares. Instead of exhausting the possibilities of her collection of plausible misfits, this group portrait leaves you longing for more.