The Crocodile Bird

The urge to protect can go awry, as Ruth Rendell shows in her latest novel of suspense. As the story opens, the police have just been to visit Eve Beck, who lives with her daughter Liza in the gatehouse of Shrove House, an English manor. Eve tells Liza that she must leave the secluded gatehouse, in which Liza has been kept in solitude for all of her sixteen years. Eve fears that Liza will inadvertently reveal to the police the events that have occurred there.

Rendell builds suspense from this shocking beginning, only gradually revealing the events at Shrove House. Liza leaves, not to live with Eve’s friend as Eve has told her but to stay with her boyfriend, of whom Eve is unaware. Although Eve attempted to shelter Liza from the world, Liza’s curiosity led to her discovery of a television set in Shrove House. Sneaking hours of watching the set teaches Liza that she can lie to her mother and that the world outside Shrove House holds things of interest.

Living with her boyfriend, Liza tells him some of what happened at Shrove House, recalling the rest in private moments. The recollections fill most of the book and describe how Liza was reared in almost complete isolation from the outside world, without newspapers, radio, or television and with only the old books at Shrove House to read. As Liza’s memories come forward to the present, she realizes that her mother’s very attempts to remain in the sheltered environment of Shrove House led to Eve’s crimes. Liza comes to realize that Eve used her to relive her own life, an endeavor doomed to failure. Rendell concludes the novel nicely, resolving the many questions introduced throughout and showing Liza’s development as her own person, separate from her mother.