Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Make Death Love Me: Review

The next time I do fight I'll make death love me, for I'll contend even with his pestilent scythe.... 
~from Shakepeare's Antony & Cleopatra
quoted in Make Death Love Me (1979) by Ruth Rendell

Rendell's book brings togeth two story lines. We are introduced first to Alan Groombridge, an unhappily married manager at a small bank in a Suffolk village. Groombridge is a bookish daydreamer. A man who, when his shotgun wedding brought him a dull and unfulfilling life, retreated to the pages of poetry and plays and the romantic classics of the past. Each week when he must get into the safe, he allows himself to fantasize about running off with 3000 pounds of the bank's money. That would be the amount he has calculated would allow him to spend one year of freedom doing exactly what he pleased in a small bed-sit somewhere--somewhere far away from his wife and his obnoxious father-in-law. But he knows he could never really do it. When you have a small bank with only two employees and one of the employees disappears at the same time as nearly half of the on-hand cash....well, it wouldn't take a Sherlock Holmes to figure out who took the cash.

Enter two young misfits who are down on their luck, without jobs or a suitable source of income and who happen to meet up with someone who gives them (unknowingly) just the information needed to plot a bank robbery at Groombridge's bank. They plan the robbery for lunchtime and manage to make off with 4000 pounds--and the leggy, busty teller Joyce who has the misfortune to see their faces. The young men panic and set Joyce up as an unwilling roommate while they try to figure out what to do with her so they can make their escape.

Meanwhile, Groombridge was busy fondling his 3000 pounds in a closet and takes the opportunity presented by the robbery to disappear as well. He runs away to London with his small fortune to finally realize his dream. He finds the perfect room in a basement filled to the brim with books and also finds his ideal woman and settles down to enjoy her and her books. The setup is perfect--the police and his family believe that both he and Joyce have been snatched by the robbers, so no one is really hunting him for his embezzlement. But the chivalrous streak that makes Groombridge love the poetry and classic romances and tales of knights-errant won't allow him to ignore clues to the robbers' identities when they present themselves. He can't quite bear to go to the police with his knowledge, after all they will make him give back the money and return to the bosom of his "loving" family, so he follows the trail himself hoping to concoct a story that will allow him to rescue Joyce and manage to maintain the new life he has begun to build. 

Rendell gives us a dark drama filled with enough tragedy for a Shakespeare play. There are the pathetic, panicky bank robbers and poor Groombridge and his dismal home life. The two bright spots are Joyce's strong character in the face of her imprisonment and the brief moments when Groombridge is allowed to live out his dream. This isn't really a mystery--there's no secret about who did what, but there is suspense in waiting to find out if the robbers will be caught and what will happen to Joyce and Alan Groombridge. Rendell provides deft characterizations and superb, if rather bleak atmosphere. ★★ and a half.

This fulfills the "Skull" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.


fredamans said...

Just the references to Shakespeare have captured my attention. Sounds like a fascinating read.

Anonymous said...

Not one I've come across before Bev - but I'm less familiar with her non-Wexford books from that era - sounds definitely like Rendell though"