Some Lie and Some Die, Ruth Rendell | Book Review

Some Lie and Some Die, Ruth Rendell book cover

Warning: I have a bit of a ramble here. If you want to get straight to the review, click here.

I acquired Some Lie and Some Die late last year when I helped my Mum do a mega clear-out in readiness for her to move house. She was saying goodbye to the family home she’d lived in for almost 20 years, so you can imagine there was a fair bit of clutter that had been accumulated, and a great deal of that clutter was books. Glorious books.

When my grandparents – my Dad’s parents – died many moons ago, my Dad acquired a lot of their books. He, like me, had a hard time parting with books, even if he wasn’t sure whether he was going to read them. Some of them ended up crammed onto bookshelves, and those which didn’t fit on the shelves were stashed in boxes and hidden in the loft. When my Dad passed away, there they remained, untouched, for another 5 years. Oh, and add to that a pile of books that were bought, or bought for, my Dad, too, many of which are non-fiction.

My Mum wanted rid of them when she moved. She didn’t have the space for piles of books in her new place and she, quite rightly, had an “out with the old, in with the new” attitude to moving. So, there I was, faced with dozens and dozens of exciting books that I’d never read and that were needing a new home.

It’s worth pointing out that I didn’t have any more space in my own place than my Mum did in her new one. But I took them anyway. How could I not? Free books! And lots of them very old and smelling like fusty old bookshop. Now, that might not sound appealing to you, but it is to me because I’m a weirdo.

The current situation is that I have a huge stack of reasonably new, unread books, a huge stack of very old, unread books, a stack of middle-aged, unread non-fiction books, and a Kindle jam-packed with yet more digital, unread books. It’s nice to know that I’ll have something new to read for at least the next three years, but it’s also just a bit ridiculous.

The trouble is, I find myself reaching first for the books I most recently bought. I hear the hype about them online or I remember the exciting blurb that made me pick them up in a bookshop. With the old, hand-me-down books, I don’t feel the same pull because they’re simply not books that I’ve chosen myself.

I do, without a doubt, want to read them. It’s a sentimental thing more than anything. These are books my late family members read and held onto for years. I want to know why. I want to figure out why they liked them. I want to feel like I know them a bit better. I mean, I knew my Dad well and I knew his taste in books. But my grandparents died when I was a kid; I wasn’t old enough to get to know their favourite type of literature. There’s just something special about reading a book that they must have read decades ago, perhaps before I was even born.

Maybe it’s just me and my daft sentimentality. Yep – it’s probably that. I mean, that’s why I have a China cabinet in my living room that doesn’t fit in with my décor one bit; my grandad made it – it’s a piece of family history. It’s also why that China cabinet is filled with a multitude of dated, tacky trinkets and ornaments; they’re little heirlooms from my recent ancestors.

The reason why I’m wittering on about this (for 600 sodding words) is because I’ve finally got around to reading one of the beloved old books, and I’m pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it.

Some Lie and Some Die is a murder mystery from Rendell’s much-loved Inspector Wexford series. A music festival takes place in the quiet town of Kingsmarkham when the body of a brutally murdered woman is discovered. Inspector Wexford and his sidekick Burden are tasked with figuring out whodunnit, and they’re convinced that the festival’s headline act had something to do with it.

It’s a short, cosy read, and Wexford is a loveable protagonist. He’s smart, funny, and scathing at the right moments. However, I think what I like most about him is that he’s relatively ordinary. He’s clever, sure, but not painted as a crime genius. He’s firm without being too aggressive. He’s “old” (so the book says, though I’d have to disagree that 60 is old) but not curmudgeonly. Sometimes I think that crime protagonists, particularly police officers in ongoing series, end up being too conveniently remarkable and brilliant; they’re almost caricatures and it makes them unbelievable. Wexford isn’t; he’s just a good guy who’s very good at his job.

Sometimes scenes were written so vividly, with long, overdone passages of imagery, that it took me away from the plot itself. I didn’t care what colour the sky was or how the sun shone onto the ground – I just wanted more clues as to who did it.

I also felt that some of the characters were a little one-dimensional, namely the antagonist and his little entourage, which made them very easy suspects. However, in other instances we saw the complexity of characters via Wexford’s thoughts as he analysed the true nature and personality of those he interviewed, and I loved this aspect.

Having had a poke around on Goodreads, it appears that many Ruth Rendell fans were somewhat let down by Some Lie and Some Die, believing it not to be the best work in the Inspector Wexford series. If that’s the case I’d certainly like to read more in the series. I’m also keen to get stuck into the novels Rendell wrote under the pseudonym Barbara Vine, which are supposed to be a little darker and grittier and sound right up my street.

So. Old book, not my ideal genre, not something I’d ever pick up in a bookshop – and I had a bloody lovely time reading it. This I exactly why it’s important to step out of our reading comfort zones every now and again.

I’m going to be alternating my futures reads between new books, old books, Kindle books, and non-fiction books from now on out. It will certainly make these reviews a bit more unpredictable and interesting, and it might just help me to control my book-buying habits a wee bit… but don’t hold me to that.

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