From three-time Edgar Award–winning mystery writer Ruth Rendell comes a captivating and expertly plotted tale of residents and servants on one block of a posh London street—and the deadly ways their lives intertwine.
Life for the residents and servants of Hexam Place appears placid and orderly on the outside: drivers take their employers to and from work, dogs are walked, flowers are planted in gardens, and Christmas candles lit uniformly in windows. But beneath this tranquil veneer, the upstairs-downstairs relationships are set to combust.
Henry, the handsome valet to Lord Studley, is sleeping with both the Lord’s wife and his university-age daughter. Montserrat, the Still family’s lazy au pair, assists Mrs. Still in keeping secret her illicit affair with a television actor—in exchange for pocket cash. June, the haughty housekeeper to a princess of dubious origin, tries to enlist her fellow house-helpers into a “society” to address complaints about their employers. Meanwhile, Dex, the disturbed gardener to several families on the block, thinks a voice on his cell phone is giving him godlike instructions—commands that could imperil the lives of all those in Hexam Place.
The St. Zita Society is Ruth Rendell at her brilliant best—a deeply observed and suspenseful novel of murder in the quintessentially London world of servants and their masters.
About Ruth Rendell
Ruth Rendell has won three Edgar Awards, the highest accolade from Mystery Writers of America, four Gold Daggers, and a Diamond Dagger for outstanding contribution to the genre from England’s prestigious Crime Writer’s Association. Her remarkable career has spanned more than forty years, with more than sixty books published. A member of the House of Lords, she lives in London.
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. – Kirkus Reviews
Book World: ‘The St. Zita Society’
The Washington Post Book Review – August 19, 2012 (Excerpt)
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 (who is also Baroness Rendell of Babergh, CBE, a member of the House of Lords and a stalwart of the Labour Party) 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. St. Zita, if you’ve forgotten, is the patron saint of domestic servants, and Rendell’s story focuses on the masters and servants who inhabit Georgian mansions on one block of Hexam Place near Sloan Gardens in the heart of London. In an opening scene, several of the downstairs folk — gardeners, drivers, nannies and the like — meet at the corner pub to organize a St. Zita Society. [Read the full article...]
Rendell might be known chiefly as a mystery writer, but her new book doesn’t feel much like a crime novel. Not that there isn’t any. There’s an extraordinary amount of it, including murder though not all illegal. Much of it would fall under the “crimes of the heart” category, as valets sleep with the lord’s wife and his daughter. It reads more like a comedy of manners mostly because there isn’t the presence of a strong detective, as there is in her Inspector Wexford series. What The St. Zita Society resembles is Upstairs, Downstairs in sordid hyper-drive. This is a book about a street in London, and the tangled community of its naughty or complicit owners and servants. It’s set in contemporary times, with references to the Internet—Dex the gardener hears through his cellphone the malevolent voice of “Peach,” a manifestation of his violent paranoia. But the novel has an old-fashioned feel—a “Princess” on the street is 82 years old and has a maid who is 78, and they get tipsy together watching soap operas. The way that everyone knows one another on Hexam Place might even seem downright medieval to residents of modern cities who have no idea of the name of the person living across the hall.
Bad Neighborhood - ‘The St. Zita Society,’ by Ruth Rendell, and More
The New York Times Book Review – August 31, 2012 (Excerpt)
I’m well aware of her reputation as a good citizen and a responsible member of Parliament, but trust me — you don’t want to live in Ruth Rendell’s neighborhood. Like her other urban teardowns, “Portobello” and “Tigerlily’s Orchids,” THE ST. ZITA SOCIETY (Scribner, $26) takes up residence in a picturesque London street and ever so slowly and delicately eviscerates the pretentious upper-middle-class residents behind its pseudo-Georgian facades. And lest anyone accuse this most cynical of satirists of sentimentalizing the lower orders, she turns and takes a bite out of these minions for adopting their masters’ shabby values.
The carnage begins in a pub called the Dugong, the meeting place of a newly formed association named after the patron saint of domestic help. The au pairs, nannies, maids, chauffeurs and live-in companions who attend the initial meetings have no specific agenda aside from taking in some shows and expressing “solidarity,” but by the end of the story these loyal servants will instigate a series of reversals that add up to something of a palace coup. [Read the full article...]
DOODLEBUGS & SPITFIRES Memories and Short Stories by Peter Carroll
“Doodlebugs & Spitfires” is a delightful collection of memories and short stories written by Peter Carroll, the author of “Queen of Misfortune,” in his trademark poetic and profoundly thoughtful style.
Most of his stories, previously published in limited form in local English newspapers and magazines, like “Brave New World”, “The Forties Street Tradesmen”, “Doodlebugs”, or “The Christmas of 43” evolve around his childhood in the Northern part of London during and after World War II. He describes the horrors that came with the V1 flying bombs, nicknamed the “Doodlebugs.” Heroic British pilots in their “Spitfire” airplanes would attempt to divert the flying bombs from the populated areas, sometimes successful, and sometimes not.
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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