The Crocodile Bird by Ruth Rendell: a Book Review

I posted the opening sentences of The Crocodile Birdlast Friday. It really grabbed my attention and got me wondering what had caused Liza’s world fall apart. The cause is revealed when Eve, Liza’s mother tells her she has to leave home because Eve is liable to be booked for murder in the morning. Liza is nearly seventeen but has been brought up with practically no knowledge of the world outside the little gatehouse to Shrove House, where she has lived in seclusion, never having been on a bus or train or having any contact with other children. As Liza explained, Eve had wanted to protect her:

The world had treated her so badly, it was so awful out there, that I wasn’t to be allowed to go through any of that. I was to be sheltered from the world, hence no school and no visits to town, no meeting other people, other people kept down to a minimum, a totally protected childhood and youth. (page 116)

Liza, however, has a secret lover, Sean and when she leaves home she to goes to live with him in his caravan. She tells him the story of her life in a series of tales each night, just like Scheherazade in One Thousand and One Nights, culminating in how her mother is now on trial for murder. It seems, moreover, that she has killed more than once. Eve’s passion and obsession is for Shrove House, owned by Jonathan Tobias. Eve and Jonathan had grown up together and she had once thought they would marry and Shrove House would be hers. She would do anything to stay there.

This really a psychological study, rather than a straightforward crime fiction novel. It’s written in a simple style matching Liza’s childlike naivety.  To some extent, I thought that reduced the tension, although as Liza’s eyes were opened and she realised the meaning of events she had witnessed as a child, the tension mounted. It seemed that she might be following in her mother’s murderous footsteps!

The Crocodile Bird is an easy book to read and one that I enjoyed. The title intrigued me for most of the book, as I wondered where the bird comes into the story. The explanation is as Liza explains to Sean that just as the crocodile bird is able to feed safely from the mouth of a crocodile, so whatever Eve did to others (and she did some terrible things) Liza, like the bird, was always safe with her.

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Arrow; New edition edition (29 Sep 1994)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 0099303787
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099303787
  • Source: I bought the book
  • My Rating: 3.5/5

2 thoughts on “The Crocodile Bird by Ruth Rendell: a Book Review”

  1. Margaret – An excellent review, for which thank you :-). Rendell really does do psychological studies so well doesn’t she? Such interesting characters she creates, too….

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