Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines's take on Dark Corners.
The path of resentment is easier to travel than the road to forgiveness. Just ask Carl Martin, a struggling writer who lives in the highly desirable area of Falcon Mews, Maida Vale. Like the blind fools of fate, Carl
anchors Rendell’s novel in a story flavored with a painful and complicated mix
of betrayal and death. Desperately in need of funds, Carl decides to rent out
his upstairs flat to Dermot McKinnon in a decision that he will bitterly regret.
Religiously inclined Dermot, with his uneven yellow teeth, extreme thinness, and rounded shoulders has a job as a receptionist at a local
pet clinic. Yet Dermot’s arrival into Carl’s life will have ramifications for both men as they try to prevent their carefully constructed lives from unraveling around them.
Carl’s world is also turned upside down when he comes across his father’s collection of bottles and phials, pills and potions that Carl thinks of as mostly “quack remedies.” Of particular interest are the tallow capsules, labeled DNP, considered the foolproof way to avoid weight gain. The pills are also of particular interest to Stacey, Carl’s actress friend, because she can’t seem to lose weight. Then there’s also Carl’s new girlfriend, the beautiful and clever Nicola, whom Carl wants as a more permanent part of his life. With Nicola, his new novel, and now a reliable tenant, life for Carl is finally beginning to look good.
So begins Rendell’s final novel of duplicity and blackmail, in which the riddle of identity is tied to a murder and an obsession with beauty that is begun in infancy. Many of the interweaving storylines hinge on chance, reflecting Rendell‘s love of Lisson Grove and Aberdeen Place where the “dark corners” and the various footpaths seem to melt into blackness. At first Dermot pays the rent on time, but after Stacey is found dead, he suspects Carl’s involvement, positive that Carl sold the pills to Stacey while never emphasizing to her that they had side effects. From Dermot’s threats of inverted blackmail and his determination to play some sort of complicated game to Carl’s demands that he will have his rent whatever the cost, the days pass with Carl becoming ever more angry and miserable. Aware that her boyfriend is caught in a trap from which he cannot seem to extricate himself, Nicola is determined to protect Carl from Dermot, an obsession that Carl understands is just as much that of a fanatical lover as a fixated hater.
Rendell shapes her story like the darkest of Shakespearean tragedies, Carl’s connection to various other characters acting as the glue to the narrative. Weighted by his actions, Carl’s relationship with Nicola gradually disintegrates. He begins to drink heavily and has trouble sleeping, becoming more emotionally distant from the world around him. Meanwhile, Lizzie Milsom, the other central character, decides to stay illicitly in Stacey’s Pinetree Court flat. The consummate manipulator, liar, and interloper, Lizzie talks as if she has known Stacey for years, a notion not lost on her father, Tom Milsom, who has recently retired and has decided to use his free bus pass to travel around London. Tom feels hard done by, a state that Lizzie’s presence only encourages.
Things come to a terrible climax when desperate Carl finally decides he must rid himself of Dermot’s awful threat. As Carl’s mind fills with scenes of the dark waters of the canal and his backpack floating, then sinking with that “queer sucking sound,” and of the fat round goose “as green as the grass” sitting on the hall table, quietly mocking him, Rendell views her characters through a wickedly dark sociopath lens with occasional blinding insights that sometimes reduce our harsh judgment of them.
Although at times the connections seem farfetched, Rendell’s talent is that she can put her various characters on a collision course of murder, another near poisoning, and a confession of sorts that could only have come from the fires of a guilty hell. Despite the story’s implausibility, the book grabbed me from the beginning, and Rendell’s vibrant style is well suited to the quietly simmering plot. Against a backdrop of the more subdued areas of suburban London, Rendell has written a fittingly dark and characteristically sadistic final novel.