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on November 3, 2002
The ephemeral bygone quality of Ms. Vine's characters during their summer long idyll at Wyvis Hall reminded me of Anthony Powell's dream-like but objective viewings. The author toys with us in this complex novel. The reader spends two-thirds of the book not mulling over what has happened, but what is going to happen.
New owners of beautiful Wyvis Hall uncover human bones in the pet cemetery on the grounds of the estate. This sets in motion events which have been hidden for the past eleven years. The story goes back and forth from the present to the fateful summer of 1976. The tale is told from the viewpoints of Adam, Rufus and Shiva. Adam earns his father's undying enmity by inheriting his great-uncle's estate Wyvis Hall when he is 19. Adam with casual friend, Rufus drives down from London just intending to have a look at the property and going on for holidays in Greece. The estate works its magic on the young men and their stay extends to the entire summer. They sell off items in the house to keep themselves in money, drink quantities of wine, laze about and keep the world at bay. The party enlarges to include Zosie, a fey childlike homeless girl, Shiva, a highly proper Indian and his companion, the mystic Vivienne.
The reader knows something is going to happen this summer because of the prologue when the bones are discovered. But what? We know the event has had a profound effect upon Adam and Shiva that has entirely changed their lives. Rufus seems to have escaped unscathed and is living according to his original plan. None of the characters are particularly likable, let alone lovable. We don't connect with them, but do feel this terrible unease as the tale unfolds. The buildup is masterful, the horror is cataclysmic and the epilogue is chilling. Contrary to a few of the reviews posted here, this book does not have a "happy" ending at all.
Ms. Vine/Rendell deserves all the prizes she received for this craftily constructed novel. Some of the issues touched upon are profound; yet we are never allowed to be sidetracked into a case of the existential vapors. Recommended.
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on August 1, 2005
No one can create an atmosphere of tension like Ms. Rendell writing as Barbara Vine. I know as soon as I begin one of her books, that I'm on an unstoppable ride until the very last pages. This particular book is wonderfully written, and there's a nifty little surprise at the end. The best thing about Barbara Vine is the way she unfolds her plots, and weaves past and present together so it's hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. She also has an uncanny way of building the scene for her books, so that readers feel that they are right there where the usually horrible act occurs. The fun is in the unravelling of the mystery. In this book we have five young people spending an idyllic summer at a grand country estate. Irrevocable occurences happen during this summer of 1976 which come back to haunt these people almost eleven years later. Tensions and stress build and build until the final shocking ending. Great stuff!
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on March 4, 2012
I have read many of the Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine novels, and I have found all of them to be quite well written and very entertaining. However, Fatal Inversion truly stood out, both in terms of entertainment and deeper meaning.

Most of her books share a unique style of mystery, whereby it is less "who done it" than "what is the missing piece here." You could say the mystery is typically, "What is the mystery?"

In Fatal Inversion, this turns out to be truly stunning, ironic, and, if you choose to stop and think about it, quite profound. We meet a cast of very believable characters from the era of upheaval that struck our society two thirds of the way through the past century. Not a single character is two dimensional; in fact, each is a credible person who would have fit in with the real people I knew in those times. We follow some of the characters over the years that follow, and the trajectories of their lives ring perfectly true.

When I read the ending of the book, my emotional satisfaction was similar to what I have often felt upon completing a great short story such as "The Necklace" or "The Monkey's Paw." But the story lingers with me beyond that initial reaction, striking at something much deeper, and coming to mind at the oddest times. The story has truly added perspective to my understanding of real life people I knew back then, important distinctions between the kinds of people that populated those times of turmoil.

I am convinced that this is a novel that deserves a far greater reputation than it has received.
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on June 25, 1998
*A Fatal Inverstion* does not follow any of the formulas so common in today's mystery fiction. Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell) tells a uniquely horrifying and suspenseful story. Moving between the present and the past (ten years ago when the obligatory deaths occurred) in a very fluid and dynamic way, she makes the characters and events of this wonderful book come alive (no pun intended). I wanted to know what happened, and what was *going* to happen...and I wasn't sure I *really* wanted to know --- how horrible would it be? I could not put this book down!
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on September 22, 2002
This is another excellent book from Ruth Rendell...the plot creeps along like a wounded shadow, unsettling the reader as ONLY Rendell can. The characters are developed very well, quirks and all.
The writing is brilliant, and Rendell manages not just to make Wyvis Hall a brooding force over the novel, but almost a character all in itself.
the book is mysterious, suspenseful, beautifull written, with a powerful narrative drive, and with some really great twists along the way which challenge all our assumptions about what we have read. The final chapter is positively chilling.
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on March 26, 2012
I just discovered this book and author from a brief blurb in the Wall Street Journal [I often pick up books from the short reviews there] and from the moment I started it, I was unable to stop reading. It's much more than a mystery, but, in my mind, historical, literary fiction with a potent story line and surprise ending. Ms. Vine writes beautifully, her descriptions of weather and nature absolutely lovely, of people and personalities fascinating. She is extremely gifted because to weave different time periods and different points of view throughout the story in the seamless way she has is a major feat. Not many writers do this successfully. As another critic wrote, she never takes the forward movement of the novel away in spite of the changing perspectives and time frames. I thought the story quite believable for the time and the characters very well drawn. I always felt right inside the brain of whoever was doing the thinking or talking. A wonderful and surprising book and I hope this author gets more recognition. It's a much better read than most things on the market right now. I intend to read other works by Ms. Vine.
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on July 19, 1998
This is the first Barbara Vine book I've read and I really enjoyed it. I found the first couple of chapters hard to get through, but I'm so glad I did stick with it. Vine does a good job of going back and forth between the present and the past, though occasionally I had to reread a little bit to fully stay on track. The end certainly had a wonderfully suspenseful twist that leaves a person wanting more.
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on June 3, 2011
This book brings back so many memories...I read it in college and it made such an impact that after all these years it still stands out among the hundreds of books I have read since. None of the characters are all very sympathetic (what does one expect from a bunch of self absorbed college age kids?), but what does impress, even more upon re-reading, is how much control Barbara Vine has over the storyline. The alternating time frames, from past to present and vice versa, actually move the plot rather than slow it down. And it is executed so unobtrusively and in a deceptively low key manner, that we do not realize how completely gripped we are by events as the story rushes to its inevitable yet unpredictable resolutions. It almost seems like nothing is going on but Vine knows exactly where she is going and where she wants to take you. Not many to who can compare her during her peak years.
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on June 15, 1998
Unlike the vast majority of mystery writers, Rendell/Vine can actually write-- the characters are richly drawn, the plots incredibly convoluted, and the writing is sheer pleasure to read. This is not a mindless, hackneyed mystery to skim while on the train, though, it requires real attention; and while the murderer is obvious from the beginning, the questions of who was actually murdered and why are very slowly revealed as the plot thickens.
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This is the second of Ruth Rendell's Barbara Vine series of psychological mysteries, in which the emphasis is on "why" rather than "who". I've read it a number of times and always return to it with a sense of fascination for its well drawn characters and settings and for its deep and complex mystery.

In the hot English summer of 1976 Adam is 19 years old and, thanks to a deceased uncle with a wicked sense of humor, the owner of a large manor house deep in the Suffolk countryside. At odds with his parents and at loose ends, Adam sets up a commune in Wyvis Hall along with a friend Rufus during the summer holidays. Adam and Rufus are gradually joined by a motley group of fellow young people. They support themselves by selling off antiques from the Hall and lead a carefree existence until suddenly, a tragedy strikes, and then another. How the group copes with the after effects of the tragedies reverberates down through the years, affecting Adam especially when a decade after that hot summer he is suddenly called to account for his actions.

In Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine's finest manner there is much in A Fatal Inversion that is not revealed until the very end, and the reader's assumptions will be upended several times. As with the first Vine book A Dark Adapted Eye A Fatal Inversion is often included on lists of Best Mysteries, and it's certainly easy to understand why.
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