No Night Is Too Long

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

NO NIGHT IS TOO LONG consists primarily of the narrative of Tim Cornish, who writes his story in the hope of ridding himself of the memories of the lover he killed. He reveals that he has received several unsigned letters about people left alone on islands and hints that these cases parallel some misdeed of his. Cornish relates how he began a course in creative writing and tells of his housemates, including Emily, with whom he began an affair. Throughout the early part of his narrative, he hints at a lack of sexual desire, and he describes his lovemaking with Emily as more a matter of habit than of love or lust. When he meets Ivo Steadman, a paleontologist living in the same building as his writing professor, Cornish realizes that he is gay.

Cornish and Steadman begin their own affair. Steadman has a summer job giving lectures on an Alaskan cruise, and he offers to take Cornish along. By the time they are to leave, however, Cornish has tired of Steadman and wishes to end the relationship. Their travel plans leave Cornish in Juneau for two weeks while Steadman is on the cruise, and during those two weeks Cornish falls in love with Isabel Winwood. His affair with Winwood gives him the motivation finally to end his relationship with Steadman, and he plans to do so, then rejoin Winwood. When Cornish tells Steadman about the affair, Steadman vows that he will not let the couple be together. In a fit of anger, Cornish knocks Steadman unconscious while they are on an uninhabited island. He leaves Steadman there and arranges matters so that it appears that Steadman has gotten back on the cruise ship. Cornish remains haunted by memories of Steadman and sees him lurking in shadows everywhere he goes. The unsigned letters about castaways that Cornish receives convince him that someone knows about his crime, and he awaits discovery.

Much like THE CROCODILE BIRD, written under the name of Ruth Rendell, NO NIGHT IS TOO LONG gradually reveals the details of a crime through the perspective of someone involved in it. Rendell in both books shows her mastery of suspense and of carefully contrived surprise endings that fit perfectly with the facts she has established.