Shake Hands Forever by Ruth Rendell

Shake Hands ForeverRobert Hathall has finally persuaded his mother to try and reconcile with his wife. As they arrive at Robert’s house in Kingsmarkham, his mother finds Angela Hathall upstairs on the bed, strangled.

Enter Inspector Wexford who rapidly becomes certain that if not actually guilty, then Robert Hathall knows much more that he is letting on. But as the official investigation goes nowhere, Wexford starts to spend his personal time pursuing Hathall. But is Hathall actually guilty, or is there a darker secret lurking?

I can’t muster the energy to say much about this. It was recommended to me by Sergio as a strong Wexford book, but I don’t see the charm myself. Plotwise, there’s a lot of padding in the central section and I never got a sense of Wexford’s obsession with Hathall. As for the mystery, well, you either spot it or you don’t – I did pretty early, partly as there didn’t seem to be any alternatives for a potential surprise and a distinct lack of suspects. I wasn’t desperately enamoured with the depiction of the Wexford’s marriage, especially the choices that Wexford himself makes throughout the story.

Maybe it was spotting the solution so early that killed the book for me but I really didn’t enjoy this one much, so I think it’s time to take a break from the author. Not Recommended.

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10 comments

  1. I have read this one but years ago and don’t remember it at all. But I do think that if a book (or movie) relies very heavily on one big twist it can backfire if you happen to spot it early on. I remember when the movie The Sixth Sense came out and everyone raved…I went to see it quite keenly but I spotted the twist immediately – to the point that I didn’t even think it was a twist I just assumed everyone realised it – so I was quite bored because none of the supposedly suspenseful elements of the movie were suspenseful for me.

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    • My wife was exactly the same – although not me, I didn’t spot it at all. However I spotted the one in The Prestige after about ten minutes but still loved the film because there was so much else going on, along with a number of sly winks to those people who’d guessed it. This book is much more like the former – nothing else going on at all.

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  2. Sergio and I agree on this one. I just reread it last year and enjoyed it almost as much as when I read it about 20 years ago. But I know that spotting the twist early can sometimes spoil things–so I understand your reaction.

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    • Having no alternative to the twist – well, there was one but it was pretty clear that it wasn’t that – didn’t help, but the notion that a man may cheat on his wife no matter how strong the marriage really coloured me on this one. It may sound minor but the implication from the writing was that Rendell thinks that any man would act the same way as Wexford does, which simply isn’t true, also pushed my buttons here. But looking at Goodreads, it’s clear I’m in the minority.

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  3. One must remember that the Puzzle Doctor (like Sherlock Holmes) has the ability to make extensive deductions based on very minor clues. In fact, sometimes even blurbs and cover pictures have acted as spoilers for him ! An expression used in some reviews of A Meditation On Murder by Robert Thorogood would certainly have been a spoiler for him.
    Hence it is no wonder that he was able to spot the twist early in this book while others did not. 🙂

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