EVEN THE SULTRIEST SUMMER DAY IS guaranteed to turn dank and chilly once you step inside this sinister collection from Britain's reigning queen of psychological suspense. (She was recently named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.) Though the 11 tales here share certain themes—among them the homicidal impulses lurking in some of the most respectable families—their diversity is remarkable.
"Unacceptable Levels" is a playful riff about a woman more concerned about her lover's insurance policy than his person. "Burning End" presents a moving portrait of geriatric decline, criminality and regret. And the best of the batch, the novella-length "The Strawberry Tree," is a multilayered reflection by a rich Englishwoman on a fateful summer 40 years earlier when her brother and cousin disappeared.
For all the stories' differences, however, Rendell's hand remains rocksteady throughout. Her mastery finds expression in her crisp prose, abundant plot twists and, most of all, in her unblinking insight into the darkest recesses of the human psyche. (Crown, $23)