Ruth Rendell won several awards and her reputation as one of the most prestigious crime writers is immaculate and “The Saint Zita Society” has been acclaimed as one of her best mystery novels. Regardless of all of that, the book was quite a disappointment for me.
Don’t misunderstand me, Rendell’s knows, how to tell a story. The prose is great, the detailed description of the life of the rich and their servants is fascinating and there is enough cute humor in the story to make you smile now and then, but Rendell’s view of people and her attitude towards the so called lower class made me cringe. Supposedly Rendell is a supporter of the Labour party, but if so, she hides it very well. The book is full of the most common clichés, servants are not really smart, their view of the world is naïve and in general they are clueless of what is going on. On the other hand, the rich are selfish and arrogant, cannot resist carnal temptation and do not show any real affection towards their children.
There are many characters in the story and a lot of unrelated events, but the main storyline is as follows:
Preston Still is a hard working successful millionaire, while his wife is bored and tries to bring some thrill into her tedious life by cheating on him. When Preston comes home early one day, he kills his wife’s lover by pushing him down the stair. Luckily the family au-pair is close by and helps him to get rid of the body. Of course this help is not completely free and more problems evolve soon.
The au-pair is a member of the St. Zita Society, a loosely formed group of servants, who meet regularly to discuss earthshaking issues like the removal of dog poop. Unfortunately the St. Zita society is not nicely woven into the events, it is rather a parallel storyline. Most of the members of the St.Zita society are not part of the murder mystery at all. The only exception is Dex. He has been recently released from a mental hospital after trying to stab his mother. He sees bad spirits and believes that his cell phone provider, called Peach, is the voice of God.
The story is complex, perhaps a little bit bizarre at times, but artfully told. Unfortunately Rendell’s derogatory attitude towards servants in general spoiled it for me.