What's the The St. Zita Society about?
Hexam Place be may in 21st century London but it is still beset with the age-old struggle between those who serve and those who are served.
The maids, drivers and cleaners of the exclusive city suburb decide to join forces to form a club in the local pub. Named the St. Zita Society after the patron saint of servants, what started as a simple place to air grievances soon descends into a place where gossip, intrigue and murder are at the top of the agenda - and Hexam place is not short on any of those!
Henry, driver to Lord Studley, is caught in a dangerous game of seduction with both the mother and daughter of the household. Montserrat covers up (and benefits financially from) the affair of the lady of her house - with shocking consequences for all involved. And then there's Dex, a troubled boy bought in by a kindly Doctor to tend to his garden, just what messages does he think he is getting from the voice in his phone and what impact will they have on the residents on the square?
Ruth Rendell isn't about the quick, easy shocks. This book unfolds at a (sometimes frustratingly) slow pace. This, however, is its biggest strength. The characters - and there are a lot of them - are all so wonderfully developed that by the end you start to think of them as your very own neighbours!
From scheming Montserrat to haughty June, head of the St Zita Society, each character is well thought out and doesn't resort to standard stereotypes. Even the religious driver (who abstains from the pub and is therefore not at the forefront of the story) is still given enough substance for a full personality to shine off the page.
While the character development is expertly done, it is sometimes achieved at the expense of tension. Written in a wry, very English tone, the dramatic moments sometimes lose their impact when paired with an obscure character insight or thought. Dex's character, which through the synopsis you would assume played a massive role in the story, is oddly kept to the sidelines until much later in the book, which is to the detriment of the pace.
So if you approach this book not as a murder mystery, but as a fascinating insight into the world of the elite and their help - you're in for treat. It's Downton Abbey for the modern ages and there's plenty of drama to keep you hooked until the end.
Publish date: Out now
If you like this, you'll love: Previous works by Ruth Rendell
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