Picks and Pans Review: Heartstones

updated 07/20/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/20/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Ruth Rendell

This finely wrought mystery tale by the award-winning British author is written in an extremely effective Victorian style. The narrator is a teenage girl, Elvira, who, after her mother's death, starves herself so that her "sign of the ability to breed," which she finds abhorrent, does not occur. Her younger sister has nightmares and stuffs herself with food. Elvira is devoted to her father and to the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, and it is his prose she imitates so successfully in this book. The father announces he plans to remarry and that triggers violence, so horrible that Elvira is hospitalized and eventually begins to become "normal." There is a high order of wit and originality at play here. The heartstones of the title, so named because they are the size of the human heart, are the paving outside the mansion where all these spooky things take place. Is there a murderer on the premises? Not the least of the scary events are the strange holes that appear in the walls. Rendell's twist at the end is clever and truly frightening. (Harper & Row, $10.95)

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