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

Book Beginnings on Friday

I began reading The Crocodile Bird by Ruth Rendell last night for no reason other than it has been on the top of a pile by my bedside for a while.

It begins well:

 The world began to fall apart at nine in the evening. Not at five when it happened, nor at half-past six when the policemen came and Eve said to go into the little castle and not show herself, but at nine when all was quiet again and it was dark outside.

I had to read on, even though I was falling asleep. It grabbed my attention – what had happened? It must have been something bad, because the policemen came. Who is Eve? Who did she tell to go into the little castle and why? The little castle … what is that? If the thing that happened was so bad, why hadn’t the world begun to fall apart at five? Whatever happened at nine must have been much worse – or was it?

This is a Ruth Rendell book, so I expect it to be mysterious and creepy. I’ve read further on and it’s full of secrets that are slowly being revealed and so far I’m enjoying the experience.

Book Beginnings is run by Kathy at A Few More Pages.

How to participate: Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments. Include the title and the author so we know what you’re reading. Then, if you would like, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and let us know if you liked or did not like the sentence. The link-up will be at  every Friday and will be open for the entire week.