The Girl Next Door

The Girl Next Door - Ruth Rendell In the summer of 1944 there is not much for a group of young people to do in the English countryside until one day they discover a tunnel that becomes their secret meeting place. It’s a place to wile away some time; play games on make shift tables by the light of candle, tell stories, have makeshift fortune telling sessions and wonder where life will take them. They are content until one day, for no apparent reason, the father of one of their group appears at the entrance to their tunnel and forbids them to play there ever again.

Fast forward 60 years to where the countryside is now a London suburb and excavations are going on for a new home to be built when what should be unearthed but a tin biscuit box containing intertwined skeletal hands. The police are called but it is obvious from the onset that these hands are from a bygone era. Would anyone really care how or why they were buried in this place where the tunnel used to be? As the investigation gets underway we meet the, now senior, group that used to play in those tunnels. The police call all the pertinent characters together in a reunion of sorts to try to piece together the now 60-year old circumstances. Each person has their own story about what has happened since 1944 and each has a theory or suspicion about whom the hands may belong to.

The interesting thing about this book is that Ms. Rendell lets her reader know in the first few pages that a murder has been committed; by whom and who one of the victims is while the second unfortunate person remains a mystery. You would think that would ruin the mystery and why would you want to keep on reading? Despite being privy to the circumstances of the crime the reader is never sure until the end of the story who the second victim might be and even whether the murder and the discovery of the hands are indeed connected.

Sounds like a pretty good read doesn’t it? And in many ways it was. I thoroughly enjoyed the mystery. However after the “reunion” the book took a slight turn onto Wisteria Lane and became a bit soap-opera-esque. I was about to give up on the book because I couldn’t deal with any more of the senior’s soapy dramas (or their unlikable children and grandchildren) when Ms. Rendell pulled my attention abruptly back by reintroducing the murderer, now an almost 100-year old man. It was good timing since the story of his life and that of his son Alan were the most interesting in the book. It made me want to keep reading to the end.

Oh, do we find out the mystery of the two hands. Absolutely!