Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write.
Ruth Rendell’s thriller A Judgement in Stone opens with a devastating clarity. We are in no doubt as to the killer, victim and the motive. Yet, what we are told, goads us into reading the rest of the novel. We read on, because we want to know WHY Eunice would kill a family, because she was illiterate. The novel moves with horrifying inevitability to the grand guignol climax on St Valentine’s Day night and we can do nothing but read !
(It seems deeply ironic that we read to explore the motivation of the killer: this act resonates because we can do what Eunice Parchman could not).
Rendell is a witty, arch writer, as well as being sinister. The ‘Parched’ aspect of the killer’s name suggests aridity or thirst; even a longing perhaps for what is missing- ‘parchment’ we wonder? Yet our ‘reading’ proves us wrong. Instead, Rendell presents a killer whose sense of secrecy and shame have poisoned her psyche to the point of psychopathy. The ordinary act of reading has become the enemy of Eunice Parchman’s equilibrium. Books are her antagonists. Eunice loathes those who enjoy words, so she destroys them.
When Eunice joins the Coverdale family as their ‘stony’ house keeper, they little realise how their cultured ways will kill them, but we do, and we are powerless to save them!
A superb read.
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