Anna Clarke’s novels are primarily psychological studies of what makes seemingly ordinary people commit crimes; as such her works have much in common with those of Ruth Rendell. Unlike Rendell, however, Clarke rarely finds the mystery as intriguing as the mind of the criminal—and the mind of the sleuth. Her plots are nevertheless tightly woven and sometimes surprising in that, for a while, the reader may believe the sleuth to be the potential criminal or the criminal the potential victim. Clarke reveals a world in which psychological horrors lurk behind the commonplace, a world in which the innocent are forced to confront their own darkness and that of others.
Many of Clarke’s plots make use of literary references or revolve about the world of literature: Characters may be authors or literary critics. Frequently, the police believe the crime to be an unfortunate accident. They are not, however, “perfect crimes,” for always an interested party recognizes the crime and the criminal. What makes Clarke’s work particularly interesting and realistic is that the sleuth is no master of detection; rather, one average person (or, more often, two or three people) will arrive at the truth. Her tight plotting and strong character development have earned her a place in the world of mystery fiction.