I had heard great things about Barbara Vine's mystery/thriller The Brimstone Wedding, and let me tell you, it did not disappoint.
Creepy without being nightmare-inducing, it was a perfect mix of psycho drama, folk magic and superstition, and whodunit.
Here's the Library Journal blurb that I got from Amazon:
...a compelling tale of ordinary people facing extraordinary pressures. Two women, divided by age and class, share their deepest secrets in an English nursing home in which one cares for the other. There is a sense of secrecy from the start, as Jenny Warner tells dying Stella Newland about her love affair and Stella shares with Jenny the location of her secret house. Secrecy gives way to foreboding, and tension builds as details are masterfully revealed. Vine is an extraordinary storyteller, able to enthrall a reader right from the start, as she does here. Additionally, she provides a satisfying symmetry in the construction of this book, with the two women's alternating voices and the inextricable linking of their lives, as Stella dies and Jenny is virtually reborn.I couldn't have said it better myself!
I almost stopped reading early on because the story revolves around adultery--Jenny is in a loveless marriage and is having an affair with a married man, and Stella tells Jenny the story of her own extra-marital affair, and that of her husband, Rex. It seemed like it was going to be one of those maddening stories where you end up hating all the characters for being blind, stupid, spineless, or selfish.
Well, it worked out much differently. Although this is my first Barbara Vine (penname of Ruth Rendell), I put her in the same category as Daphne du Maurier--she can take seriously flawed individuals and tell you their story in such a way that you want them to get away with murder...not that that is a spoiler! :)
In addition to not figuring out how the murder worked until all was revealed at the end, I absolutely loved the village that Jenny and Stella live in and Jenny's witchy family. She grew up knowing not to wear green, to throw salt over your shoulder if you spill it, to touch wood; she knows how to make a love potion and which days are bad days for big events. And then she learns how to release herself from the straitjacket that these superstitions created.
Brimstone Wedding was a fun read--well-written, insightful, and the structure of the story was taut and balanced. An absolutely great candidate for October reading, and my second book in the R.I.P. reading challenge.