Barbara Vine is England’s treasured author, Ruth Rendell, one of the Golden Three of English Women novelists who also happen to be friends: Rendell, PD James and Frances Fyfield.  Now Baroness Rendell of Babergh (hey, I don’t know how the Queen comes up with these titles!), you may know her from her string of psychological crime thrillers or her best-selling series featuring Chief Insp. Reg Wexford and his family, which has also been serialized by the BBC and seen  in the US on Mystery!

Winner of three Edgar’s and four Gold Dagger Awards for her novels, Rendell is an accomplished author no matter which of her names she writes under.

The Birthday Gift is a crime novel with the unusual twist of not being about a murder at all.  Rather, it centers on the unraveling of a British MP, Ivor Tesham, whose idea of a birthday present for his mistress–to have her ‘kidnapped’ on the street, trussed up and brought to him for a night of sexual fantasy–goes horribly wrong.

It’s told in the beginning from the viewpoint of Ivor’s brother-in-law, a family man who is often repulsed by his in-law’s actions and sometimes cavalier attitude, while still trying to be supportive to his wife, the cad’s sister.  Halfway through, Vine adds the point of view of a spinster who has fallen is love with the dead woman’s cuckolded husband.

There is no great mystery here, other than watching how the big man will fall as the years pass and he thinks he is safe, and yet Vine is such a capable author, she reels the reader in and you feel compelled to see the story unfold.  Twice I thought I would put it aside as I knew there was no surprise ending; twice I picked it up until I’d finished it.

This is not a page turner, but rather a study in characters, done in a mild, mannerly way which disguises the awful hubris man can possess.  It also provides an interesting view into Parliament and the daily life of an rising MP.

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