Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Short Story Wednesday: The Fever Tree by Ruth Rendell

This collection contains 10 short stories and one novella. None of them are Inspector Wexford stories. 

All of the stories are excellent.  Usually I avoid Ruth Rendell's standalone novels; they are too intense for me. But I have found these short stories, although they have the same elements, to be good reads. They have just enough suspense. 

The stories are:

  • The Fever Tree
  • The Dreadful Day of Judgement
  • A Glowing Future
  • An Outside Interest
  • A Case of Coincidence
  • Thornapple (novella)
  • May and June
  • A Needle for the Devil
  • Front Seat
  • Paintbox Place
  • The Wrong Category

Here are some notes on the stories I especially liked:

The Fever Tree

One of the shorter stories. A husband makes a last effort to save his marriage on a visit to an African game preserve, with unexpected results.

A Glowing Future

An unfaithful lover asks his old girlfriend to help pack his belongings for shipping to his new lover in Australia.

An Outside Interest 

First sentence: "Frightening people used to be a hobby of mine."


This is the longest story in the book. It is told from the viewpoint of a young boy whose hobby is distilling poisons from plants. Very well told, with several unsympathetic characters.

May and June

May is jilted by her rich, handsome boyfriend when he meets her beautiful sister, June. They marry and May obsesses about this for years. 

A Needle for the Devil

My favorite story in the collection. A nurse who loves to knit meets an older retired man who is ready to get married. After marriage, they are both intolerant of the other needs, which leads to some extreme measures. The best part: a friend who is a mystery writer who kept spouting the most ingenious ways to kill people and not be detected.


Publisher:   Ballantine Books, 1984. Orig. pub. 1982.
Length:      183 pages
Format:      Paperback
Setting:      UK
Genre:       Mystery, short stories
Source:      I purchased my copy.


Nick Fuller said...

Rendell was brilliant at those nasty twists in the tale - rather like Roald Dahl. Have you read The Fallen Curtain, an even finer collection?

"The Wrong Category" (if it's the one I'm thinking of) is a little gem of misdirection.

I like some of the stand-alone novels, but others, like you, I find too intense / too grim. Not in any hurry to reread A Demon in My View!

TracyK said...

Nick, The Wrong Category is as you describe it. I had to go back and reread it to make sure.

I also liked the unexpected ending of Paintbox Place. So many good stories in one collection is amazing.

I will look for The Fallen Curtain.

Rick Robinson said...

For the reasons you state, I’m not a Rendell fan.

Margot Kinberg said...

I know what you mean, Tracy, about the intensity of Rendell's work. It's not for everyone. I'm glad you liked these short stories, though. It takes a skilled writer to do both novels and short stories well.

TracyK said...

Rick, I was very surprised to like these stories so much, given my reaction to some of Rendell's novels. I have read all but the last of the Inspector wexford novels, though, and enjoyed them all. I did not enjoy some of the earlier ones in that series when I reread them, though.

TracyK said...

The standalone novels that I have read are very intense, Margot, but I have a few more on my TBR to try anyway. Loved the short stories though. Not predictable at all.

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Hi Tracy,

I have only recently discovered that I quite like the idea of a short story collection, as I have hitherto always side-stepped them and I have no real idea why.

One of your previous commenters, Nick, observed that Rendell short stories could be likened to those of Roald Dahl, whose short stories we always watched on TV, when they were aired as the series 'Tales Of The Unexpected'.

I have only read a selection of Ruth's early stand alone stories, as I preferred to watch the 'Wexford' series when it was made into a TV series, of which I missed not a single episode!

I shall definitely be adding this one to my list, thanks for sharing :)


Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Tracy, I'm currently reading my first book by Ruth Rendell titled "The Speaker of Mandarin," which I'm sure you may have already read and reviewed here.

TracyK said...

Yvonne, I have been reading short stories more in the last 3 or 4 years than I ever did before. Don't know why. And I have periods of reading more of them and periods where I don't read them at all.

I do have Roald Dahl's book of short stories Tales of the Unexpected but have not tried any yet. Nor seen any of the TV series.

TracyK said...

Prashant, I probably read that book over 30 years ago, so I haven't reviewed it and I would probably enjoy rereading it. If I did not have too much of a backlog of books to read, I would seriously considered rereading the Wexford books from the 1980s and 1990s.

Cath said...

I'm starting to become addicted to short stories and quite enjoy always having a volume on the go. I'll look out for this one as I imagine Ruth Rendall's short stories might be on the macabre side?

TracyK said...

Cath, the stories can be disturbing, about twisted or amoral people, although some also have their humorous side. None of them in this book are gruesome or horrifying. I liked them a lot.

pattinase (abbott) said...

She would certainly rank among my ten favorite mystery writers. Surely there is no one more versatile. Although I doubt she could turn out a good cozy. R.I.P. Ruth

TracyK said...

Patti, I was glad I found this book of short stories and expanded my knowledge of Ruth Rendell. While I still have a few of her standalone books to try, I have mostly avoided them.

Clothes in Books said...

I read a lot of Ruth Rendell short stories back in the day, including this collection. She was very clever and had a vivid imagination - there were some bangers in there.

She is one of the authors whom I used to love - I read absolutely everything by her over a period of years - but I am less keen now: I didn't read the later ones, and rarely re-read her. The only one that I still strongly favour is A Judgement in Stone, which I think is a wonderful book, and which I do re-read.

TracyK said...

Moira, I read most of the Wexford novels, but I think I never read the last one. And some of the standalone novels, but most of them too intense for me. I did read A Judgement in Stone, long ago and plan to reread it.

col2910 said...

I don't think I've got any of her shorter stuff. I'll keep an eye out for this one, even thyough I need more books like a hole in the head.

TracyK said...

Col, I am really hoping in 2021 I can stop buying so many books. I had that goal in 2020 and it did not work out.