Dark Corners, by Ruth Rendell. Scribner, 229 pages.
I’m so sad that there will never be another new Ruth Rendell mystery to look forward to, but I’m so glad she had this last one in the pipeline when she died in May. I wonder whether she was still polishing; in a few spots it feels as if she had sketched in a scene as a placeholder and then did not get back to flesh it out.
“Dark Corners” features the usual cast of loosely linked Londoners whose strange life choices bring them into fatal conflict. The first death is accidental: Stacey, a young actress, takes a weight-loss supplement with deadly side effects. Pay attention to the various characters’ attitudes; to most the horror of being fat makes this a justifiable risk; a few are immune to this cultural bias.
Carl, an acquaintance who supplied the pills, has a creepy upstairs tenant who decides to play on his landlord’s fear of exposure and stop paying rent. Carl slides into an obsession with the nonpaying renter, and you can guess who the next victim is.
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A lot of the plot revolves around who lives where and with whom, and who’s paying for what. Maybe that’s just a preoccupation of city dwellers everywhere. Rendell also shines a light into the dark corners of gender expectations. Her Inspector Wexford novels, her books under the name Barbara Vine, and these standalones full of uneasy menace will all be missed.
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Bazaar of Bad Dreams, by Stephen King. Scribner, 495 pages.
On top of his steady stream of novels, Stephen King likes to experiment with new ways of storytelling, including a lively digital output. His first straight-to-Kindle story featured a Kindle from an alternate universe, with some very freaky menus. If you missed it online, that story is reprinted as one of the 20 in this collection, each one with a chatty intro about where the idea came from, which favorite writer’s work colored the prose, and other details that will gladden the hearts of what King calls his Constant Readers.
A short-story collection really showcases King’s range. He can cross gender and class lines, and prose styles as well. How many authors can capture blue-collar despair, Lovecraftian esoterica, and a cracking good baseball legend?
A Specter of Justice, by Mark de Castrique. Poisoned Pen Press, 252 pages.
Series sleuths Sam Blackman and Nakayla Robertson are helping with a charity ghost tour that goes wrong when one of the volunteer “haints” turns up for her re-enactment dead. When a second volunteer is found dead, the clues start to point uncomfortably near Sam and Nakayla’s friend, a local attorney fond of Hawaiian shirts and courtroom tricks.
The corpses are fictional, but the barbecue, craft beer and Asheville ghost stories are 100 percent authentic. As always, by the time I closed the book, Mark de Castrique had me ready for a road trip.