Predictable, Conventional, Procedural
Saw it coming a mile way (that is to say, very early on in the novel). But knowing Rendell/Vine's genius, I kept telling myself throughout the whole thing: "No, no, calm yourself; she'll no doubt go a totally different path to what you're expecting." Not so. No twists were forthcoming. Also, this ending was very rushed and seemed to come out of nowhere i.e. with very little notice to the reader that Wexford was hot on the trail. Given Wexford's particular emotional attachment to one of the victims, it seems extra-odd that we're given no hints that he's started to make sense of the case. Finally, the very last few sentences cheated the reader of satisfaction over the solved mystery; we--or at least I-- need a little more. Even another paragraph would have been useful.
Although I didn't care for all the drama and trauma with Wexford's daughters, I chuckled over every scene featuring one daughter's loathsome new boyfriend, and Wexford's pained reactions to him.
The above boyfriend scenes elicited audible chuckles that caused the people in nearby work stations to look over at me.
For me, this was not one of Rendell's best. Admittedly, I have always preferred her more psychologically-driven, non-procedural-heavy works (such as the ones written as Barbara Vine) but this novel stands out as a particularly mundane police procedural, with (unwelcome) emphasis on Wexford's daughter dramas thrown in as if to add "characterization." I understand why Rendell drew the parallels between his home life and the case at hand, but it was too much.
Overall, the book was entertaining enough that I'll listen to it again in the future, and I don't mind recommending it to you if you're a Rendell fan...I would just advise newcomers to Rendell/Vine to start with other of her novels, lest you get the impression that she is a conventional mystery writer who writes conventional, predictable (if well-written) detective novels. Normally, she's anything but.
As for the narrator Davina Porter, she is a solid one and I'd readily buy more books read by her. Her voice is itself modulated in tone and pleasant, and that's no small point when you consider how bad it can be to listen to an overly-breathy or too-nasal, etc. etc. narrator for several hours on end. Her forte is lower-class accents; those are great. She is good at Wexford's West Country accent, too, though sometimes distractingly inept at American accents.
Until fairly recently, I didn't realize that A-list film actors recorded audiobooks. But apparently, quite a few have, and this recording of The Brimstone Wedding, narrated by the redoubtable Juliet Stevenson, is an example.
Like one of the characters in the novel, I think I'll now always have certain mental associations of wheat fields, farmers, tractors, and "the countryside" in general. The book's entire action takes place in the country; no London scenes here.
She is everything a narrator should be: warm, intimate voice and intonation that invite themselves into the listener's mental "space;" good at various accents; good at performing voices for a sex different than her own (men); and an intelligent phrasing and enunciation. I liked the way she handled the accent of the main narrator, Jenny/Genevieve, because unlike some other actors playing country characters, she didn't make the character seem overly naive or diminished in intelligence. Being from a rural area and having little formal education does not make one stupid or a figure of fun! In Stevenson's hands, Jenny/Genevieve always seems bright as well as sympathetic, friendly, etc.
This isn't one of those Vine/Rendell books (like say, A Sight For Sore Eyes) that affected me viscerally while reading/listening. Towards the end, I even thought, "Really, are those all of the main plot points of the book--no more?" I didn't feel that punch in the stomach and lingering sense of doom that many Vine/Rendell books supply. The plot is much simpler and more straight-forward than I expected from this author. But it works in its own, subtle way. This would definitely reward a repeat listening.
Please note that this is a first-person POV/narration, and it is sometimes shared between two main narrators, neither of which I normally care for in novels, but it works to good effect here. There are also several flashbacks to previous eras (the 1950s and 60s). Also, if you've never read a Barbara Vine novel, you should know that these books are often not detective novels or police procedurals such as the ones the author writes under the name Ruth Rendell. The Brimstone Wedding is not a mystery novel, although there are mysteries within it that characters puzzle over, nor is it a thriller or suspense novel per se. It is, rather, a tale that is suspenseful and at times disturbing (though not, in my opinion, as disturbing as other Vine/Rendell novels). Enjoy!
Cinnamon Sky is a hard to find, sometimes out of print late-Georgian era romance by British-born author Janet Woods. It is mild as historicals go, with no explicit scenes, and a lot of gentle, sparkling humour. The orphan/rags-to-riches story, while not original, is well-handled, highlighted by the distinct personalities of the five delightful Patterson sisters. (Although I could have done with less of the stock Other Woman narrative). The narrator is very good, especially at the little girls' varying voices (the hero is a bit gruff/raspy-sounding). I would recommend this to readers who like humourous Regency-era romances such as Pride and Prejudice (Cinnamon takes place just before that era, around 1800); orphan stories; stories about sisters; or quietly intelligent (as opposed to fiery) heroines. I think you'll enjoy this.
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