Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on Dark Corners.
Conscience is a funny thing, behavior easily rationalized to fit circumstances. Trouble begins for cash-poor Carl Martin when he inherits his fatherís home in a trendy London neighborhood, Falcon Mews, in Maida Vale. Intent on writing
a second after his first novel is published, Carl is too busy to bother cleaning out his fatherís collection of homeopathic remedies, leaving them in his bathroom, making room for his own few things on another shelf. He gives the matter no more thought, quickly renting his upstairs bedroom to provide a monthly income while he writes. The tenant Carl chooses is equally unimportant: an unattractive, religious man, Dermot McKinnon. Intent on beginning his work, Carl is unconcerned about any minor mistakes he has made.
He isnít very attentive, either, when a friend confides her worry over losing her TV job because of a weight gain. He offers to sell her some diet capsules from his fatherís remedies in the medicine cabinet, an easy solution for her and some money in his pocket. Unfortunately, this lapse of judgment proves an endless source of trouble for Carl when the friend dies after ingesting the pills. The wily Dermot, who happened to overhear the transaction, decides to blackmail his landlord. Shocked by Dermotís announcement that he will no longer be paying rent, Carl canít believe his tenant could be so bold. Aside from the friendís death, Carlís life is going well, his beautiful girlfriend, Nicola, agreeing to move in with him.
Suddenly Martinís world turns sour: his friendís death, his tenantís blackmail, and his own inability to deal with these problems becomes overwhelming. Carl is obsessed with Dermotís outrageous demand, the idea that he shall live rent-free undermining Carlís financial security and his ability to even concentrate on the novel. The balance of power slowly shifts as McKinnon settles into his new role, enjoying the power over his landlord, subtly threatening media exposure should Martin decide to call his bluff, the writerís career certain to be ruined if his part in the friendís death is exposed.
An optimist, Nicola encourages Carl to call Dermotís bluff. Carl cannot bear this entreaty to ignore the threat, growing more and more obsessed with the outrage of it all. He believes that Dermot will grow ever bolder, make more outrageous demands.
A silent rage builds, yet Carl remains helpless, unable to say no to a tenant who does, indeed, expand his position in the house, his right to enjoy more than just his upstairs bedroom and bath. Carlís helplessness in the face of McKinnonís behavior reveals a deep fault line in his personality. The potential loss of Nicola is only one consequence he faces, as Dermot imposes and Martin acquiesces, seething all the while.
Rendell builds this precarious house of cards around the pivotal relationship between Martin and McKinnon, but other characters flesh out a cleverly-crafted mystery, from Lizzie Malstrom, a friend of the dead woman, to the clients Dermot has cultivated while employed at a vetís office--even Lizzieís father, Tom, adding emotional texture as he uses his senior passes after retirement to ride the London bus system, exploring the city his new hobby. But all roads, and characters lead, eventually, to Carl Martinís door and his fateful decision to rent a room to a stranger and offer a friend the diet pills from his fatherís collection.
The last of Rendellís thrillers before her passing, the ironic Dark Corners displays her knack for exploring human weakness and its consequences. One tragedy follows another, Martin relinquishing his power
and drowning in resentments while everything he values slips away in a growing nightmare. With Dark Corners, Rendell adds one more brick to a tower of accomplishment and will be sorely missed.