The Saint Zita Society by Ruth Rendell

When I began to read The Saint Zita Society I could not remember all the characters, so many were introduced one after the other. So, I wrote them all down together with where they lived. In the first 30 pages I counted 28 characters. It helped to write their names down, and eventually their relationships and characteristics became familiar to me. There were just a few of the initial characters who did not play a large part later in the book.

I’d borrowed the book from the library and had totally missed the fact that the book’s endpapers contain a plan of Hexham Place with the names of the people who live at each house! It was partly my own fault that I missed this, not looking properly and skipping over straight away to the first chapter, but it was also because the library had covered up the front endpaper with labels and had sealed the book jacket to both the front and back endpapers! It would really have helped if I’d seen this when I started to read the book!

This is not a who-done-it, nor a why-done-it, but is really a character study of the people who live and work at Hexham Place in Pimlico and a ‘will-they get away with it’ mystery. To that extent I found it entertaining, if predictable. As usual with Ruth Rendell’s books the characters are a mix of odd personalities, with even the most ‘normal’ ones, revealing their idiosyncrasies – a reflection of real society, I suppose!

The Saint Zita Society is the brainchild of June (78 years old and the paid companion of the wealthy Princess Susan Hapsburg, 82 years old) who lives at No. 6 Hexham Place, along with Gussie the dog). As June explains Saint Zita is the patron saint of domestic servants, who gave food and clothes to the poor. The Society doesn’t function well, mainly because the members (cleaners, drivers, gardeners, and home helps – a nanny and an au pair) use it to air their grievances with little hope of resolving them. On the fringes of the Society is Dex, a strange man who keeps to himself, sees evil spirits and talks to Peach, his ‘god’, on his mobile. The others are uneasy around Dex, especially when they’re told that he had  tried to kill his mother and had spent time in a place for the criminally insane, but he is now cured and working as a gardener for Dr Jefferson at No.3 Hexham Place

After about a third of the book there is a death and an attempt to cover it up. And from that point on the action spirals to its predictable conclusion and even what I think was meant as an unexpected twist near the end was also rather obvious.

Overall, not a taxing mystery, but a look at the interaction between a group of disparate characters. I enjoyed it even though it lacked suspense and it ends rather abruptly (a bit like this post!). Just be careful next time you’re out shopping in a crowd or are out jogging on your own!

7 thoughts on “The Saint Zita Society by Ruth Rendell”

  1. I just love the idea of you writing down all their names and where they lived. Oh, just so wonderful. It is like a glimpse into the little girl Margaret, who (I expect) would have done the same thing. I’ve just begun reading RR – just two books so far – and she’s not like anyone else I’ve ever read. I’ve had the same problem with library books covering up something that was important to the book. I guess sometimes there’s just no where else to put the library related stuff.

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    1. Thanks Nan – you made me chuckle! I wish I had the lists I made of the books I read when I was younger – I’ve no idea what happened to them! RR is most definitely unique and some of her books are much much better than this one. She also writes under the name of Barbara Vine – I like those too.

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  2. Margaret – I’ve always thought Rendell does a great job of developing characters. And I know what you mean about action not being a main part of the novel. I’m glad you enjoyed it, and I’ll look out for those dangerous shopping and jogging moments…

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  3. I don’t know that I would work that hard and might’ve given up on the book. My hat is off to you for perseverance! Sounds like a decent premise but a somewhat ho-hum execution. Still, I enjoyed reading your review, as always!

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