A Dark-Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine

A Dark-Adapted Eye‘A Dark-Adapted Eye’ by Barbara Vine opens with the death of Vera Hillyard, one of the last women to be hanged for murder in Britain in the late 1940s. The story is told from the point of view of Vera’s niece, Faith, who was in her early teens during the Second World War when the main events and crime in question take place. Some thirty years later, Faith is approached by a journalist called Daniel Stewart who is researching the case for a book he is writing and she slowly unravels her version of events as well as a number of family secrets.

Published to wide critical acclaim in 1986, ‘A Dark-Adapted Eye’ is the first of Ruth Rendell’s novels written under the pseudonym Barbara Vine, taken from her middle name and her great-grandmother’s maiden name. Set primarily during the Second World War, the quietly creepy and sinister tone of the story and descriptive, literary style of writing reminded me of Daphne du Maurier’s work. There is quite a lot of family history to take in at the beginning with a large cast of characters but the main story is centred around Vera and her relationship with her much younger sister Eden. Faith is sent to live with her two aunts and Vera’s young son Francis in north Essex to escape the bombing raids in London. Yet there is bitter sibling rivalry between Vera and Eden and the atmosphere soon becomes unbearably suffocating.

Rendell’s Barbara Vine novels are considered to be in the vein of psychological suspense mysteries compared with the more traditional detective crime fiction written under her real name. As the identity of the murderer is revealed from the very beginning, ‘A Dark-Adapted Eye’ is more of a whydunnit than a whodunnit but it is every bit as intriguing. Without wanting to give too much away, the ending isn’t neatly tied up even when the identity of the victim is finally revealed. Vine very cleverly lets the reader think that the main mystery has been at least partially explained but raises further doubts and questions again in the final pages. It’s a bold ending and it’s one that works very well.

Quietly chilling and curiously ambiguous, ‘A Dark-Adapted Eye’ is a must-read for fans of psychological mysteries and classic crime fiction. Highly recommended.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “A Dark-Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine

  1. I’ve absolutely adored all the Barbara Vine books, but when I see reviews of the slightly older ones I don’t remember them at all – even though I know I’ve read them all! Time to re-read them, I think – although it’s so hard to find time for re-reads when there are so many new books out there to read!

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  2. Kay

    I’m not sure I ever read this one. I do remember reading at least a couple of Barbara Vine’s books. This sounds like an absorbing story. Off to see if I can get it on audio.

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  3. I’m slightly slowly working through some Vine re-reads, both of those on my shelves, and those i must have borrowed from libraries (that’s this one) because I was not at the time a regular reader of her books

    I think you might have sent me trotting to the library for this one…….I know i HAVE read it but like crimeworm, can’t remember it

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  4. I was lucky back then – my friend’s mum bought them in hardback as soon as they came out, read them v quickly, then lent them to me!

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    • That’s something we can’t do any more if we get things on the Kindle – death to book lending! (Though it does mean that its also death-to-the-books-you-loaned-and-wished-you-hadn’t-because-it-was-never-returned-or-came-back-after-savage-mishandling!

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      • I still fume thinking about the Robert Evans bio I lent my old neighbour (she was 70, and a compulsive liar, but that’s another story…I don’t know why we expect older people to be honest! And I’m highly gullible, as I tend not to lie!) Anyway, when I went to replace it, it was out of print and people wanted £85+ for them! She had loads of my books, but that’s the one that rankles….

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  5. Thanks for this review! The book sounds right up my alley, since I’ve recently been on a Daphne du Maurier kick. Definitely going to check it out 🙂

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  6. Detective fiction and classic crime isn’t my thing but I’m determined to discover what the fuss it about this year so thanks for this recommendation. Will definitely be trying it out 🙂

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  7. Pingback: More Books I’ve Read in 2015 | A Little Blog of Books

  8. Pingback: My Books of the Year 2015 | A Little Blog of Books

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