One Across, Two Down by Ruth Rendell

One Across, Two DownOne Across, Two Down by Ruth Rendell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is something of a time capsule. It was written in the 1970s but might as well have been in the 1930s. Modern day Americans will have a hard time believing that people in the U.K. in the 1970s lived the way Stanley and Vera did, with no car and no refrigerator. Stanley is a lazy, greedy lout who married Vera for her family money, only to find that his mother-in-law controlled it all and planned to leave it all to Vera. She lives with them in their dumpy house but is trying to convince Vera to leave Stanley and come stay with her in a nicer place she will pay for. Vera supports them with a menial job while Stanley goes from temporary job to temporary job of an even more menial nature, like gas pump attendant. Make that petrol pump. The story is told from Stanley’s point of view as he cogitates how to bump off the old bat before she lures Vera away and leaves him penniless. Then fortune provides him with an opportunity. I will leave it there to avoid spoilers.

The book is unsophisticated in several senses – the plot line, the writing style, the lifestyle of the characters. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does tend be rather heavy-handed. The title refers to Stanley’s penchant for crossword puzzles, but that aspect really has little to do with the plot. I suspect it was chosen solely so the author could insert some clever British-style cryptic crossword clues she had on hand for general amusement. There’s no gore, sex, or sadism, so it wouldn’t sell in today’s market but that aspect is at least a refreshing change for some of us.

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