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Master Of The Moor (1982)

Master of the Moor (1982)

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3.74 of 5 Votes: 3
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039452215X (ISBN13: 9780394522159)

About book Master Of The Moor (1982)

A Problem With GenreAs crime fiction goes, The Master of The Moor by Ruth Rendell is perhaps one of the more subtle examples. The action is set in a moorland community, presumably somewhere like North Yorkshire, though the book’s place names are pure invention and geography is not defined. There has been a murder, a fairly vicious affair where the young female victim – perhaps a cliché in itself – has not only been stabbed but scalped as well. The body has been discovered by Stephen, a large man, passionate enough about moorland rambling to write a regular column on the subject for a local newspaper, and thus is probably not unknown in the community. The plot will not be spoiled if it is revealed that, primarily because of his intimate knowledge of the moor, coupled with his solitary nature, Stephen becomes suspect number one. There is another murder and yet another in this small, apparently tightly-knit place.Stephen is apparently happily married in an unhappy marriage. We learn of his sexual dysfunction, as if it is advertised, while he questions his own birthright. He has a confused elderly relative who lives in a care home. There’s a famous local novelist, now dead, famous for his moorland romances, a writer with whom Stephen feels a strong and special association.There is Dadda, meaning Stephen’s father, a giant of a man who runs a furniture restoration business. His son is an employee. There is Nick, the man Stephen’s wife is seeing. And then, inevitably, there are policemen involved. There has, after all, been a murder.Ruth Rendell’s descriptive writing captures the landscape well and also communicates Stephen’s life-long love of the place, its history, its flora and fauna, and its uniqueness. The plot eventually works its way through its own machinations and there is something of a surprise towards the end. So why, then, is such a competently written, engaging and enjoyable book eventually such a disappointment? The answer, surely, is that demands of the genre dominate and diminish the writer’s ability to communicate. And here are four ways in which this happens.Firstly, there is the all-seeing person at the heart of the process – the writer. As previously stated, Ruth Rendell’s book is very well written and is certainly much more than competent when compared to almost any other form. But the writer here is clearly not to be trusted. There are ideas, facts and facets relating to almost all of these characters that the writer deliberately hides from the reader, merely so that they can be revealed when the plot demands. This happens despite the God-like, all-seeing standpoint that the non-participant narrator adopts and the shifting point-of-view where, apparently, we can be inside the thoughts of any of the characters at whim. And still we do not know what they think! In The Master Of The Moor, for example, Stephen apparently changes colour when he gets angry. We only learn this some way through the tale. Do we assume that this is a new phenomenon? Has he never before been angry? Has no-one ever noticed this tendency, or remarked upon it in this small, tightly-knit community? Perhaps it is merely a convenient vehicle for the story-teller, introduced with little warning to create a spicy moment. Perhaps, then, it is disingenuousness of this type that prompts someone like Alan Bennett to confess that writers generally are not very nice people. Secondly, there is the function of the characters in relation to the plot. Throughout, the reader senses that the only reasons for identifying aspects of character is to link them to a linear plot that will eventually be resolved, with revealed detail functioning as either evidence or motive. As the process unfolds, such details are revealed sequentially as clues to notice, like scraps of paper strewn on a forest floor to dictate the route to follow. We know that these people only exist as mere vehicles, functionaries whose existence is to serve the illusion. And the journey feels ever more like being led by the nose.Thirdly, and by no means any less importantly, is the requirement that all belief be suspended, even within a setting that seems to rely upon establishing a sense of realism. Genre fiction seems to be, in relation to this demand upon the reader, to be more demanding than fantasy, horror or even opera. In Master Of The Moor, for instance, we have a total of three bizarre murders in a small, rural community. Not only are these crimes committed in a very short space of time, they are also in the public domain. Meanwhile people in these small towns seem to go on with their lives without those recent events dominating their thoughts, conversations or actions. There have been three murders, and yet it is the local police who are still doing the investigating. Three murders, and still there is neither a plethora of imported reinforcements from even nearby forces, nor is there any invasion by researchers, presenters, technicians or temporary twenty-four hour studios of national and international news gathering organisations. Life, and death, it seems, just goes on. There have been three murders, and apparently not even journalists from local or regional media are on the streets of this small place drubbing out a story. There have been three murders, and yet people still do not have them at the forefront of their gossip. There is no finger pointing. There are no tearful press conferences, and little speculation. And people still discuss furniture restoration, moorland grasses, old mines and out-of-date books before any of the three murders. Reality, the currency of the genre, seems to be strangely absent.Fourthly, and perhaps most important of all, is the sense that everything presented is formulaic. The victims are all young and female, of course, and men with sexual problems behave strangely. Most people conform to social class stereotypes and anyone with an interest worthy of remark is a suspect.Master Of The Moor is a good read. It is an enjoyable book. But, via its form, prescriptions and preconceptions, it presents an at best two-dimensional world. Its plot and characters are truly one-dimensional within that frame, mere lines that join up pre-placed dots. There is nothing wrong with the book, but, like its characters, it is imprisoned by the confines of genre and cannot transcend the imposed framework. The experience it offers the reader is therefore limited. Imagination, somehow, seem to be lacking.

You can read more reviews at my blog, The Armchair Librarian.We can pretend to be erudite all we like, but whether it's literature or the latest supermarket pulp we all know why we read murder mysteries, and that's because we want to see the dead body.Ruth Rendell does not beat around the bush. My no. The first line of this book is: "It was the first dead body he had ever seen."!!!!!!!!!!!!!Well, then.I was a little frustrated with Master of the Moor (despite that admittedly kick-ass opening) for several reasons:#1: The title made me think I was getting a deliciously trashy gothic romance, perhaps with BDSM undertones. Instead I got a rather straightfoward literary gothic mystery. My bad.#2: It took a while for the story to really get on its feet. Plus, the main character, Stephen, is a prat. I did not like him at all. He's one of those passive characters who just watches things happen to other people and does nothing but skulk through the moors like he thinks he's bloody Heathcliff.(More on that shortly...)However, the writing was quite good and I enjoyed the very British-ness of it. Everything all proper, like you could hang a doily on every other sentence, and by the way, would you like some tea and crumpets with your dead body?Where was I?...Oh, right. So anyway, Stephen finds this dead body while walking through the moors. And he also has this weird thing going on with the moors. Like, despite living in a small apartment, he kind of feels like he owns the rights to them. I also kind of got the creepy feeling that he might hump the ground if he thought nobody was looking...Anyway, the police suspect him as the murderer and Stephen is annoyed. His wife, Lyn, is also annoyed because Stephen has always been aloof and childish and needy all at the same time, treating her more like a surrogate mother than a wife. For starters, she's still a virgin. We find this out when she decides to have an extramarital affair, and the other guy's like, "Dude."Stephen is descended from this local famous bloke, but through his mother only who was also an illegitimate child. He has serious mommy issues, and is super resentful of his mother's side of the family who pretty much want nothing to do with him. All of this is going on in the background while the murderer tromps around, gleefully killing young blonde women and hacking off their hair.Stephen ends up becoming almost as fixated on the murders as he is on the moors, and eventually this fixation leads to something dramatic and psychotic and appropriately gothic.So many -ics!I like unreliable narrators, and this one was done pretty well. The ending left me a little confused though. I would have liked something more vague. I think there's a lot of reading-between-the-lines stuff happening, and I'm pretty bad at that unless I'm reallllly interested in the book (my reading comprehension scores were never great in school. I was more of a vocabmeister).Overall, this was fun. It's not as mind-rotting as other murder mysteries (*stares at James Patterson and his legion of ghost-writers*), so you can justify it by saying, "I am being cultured!" Even though you're doing the literary equivalent of poking the dead body in the woods with a stick.2.5 to 3 stars.

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This is Ruth Rendell really writing at the top of her form. Terrific psychological suspense, with character-driven plot. Main character is Stephen Whalby, who seems like a great, if a little ho-hum, guy: handsome, fit, visits his grandmother, devoted to his wife. But Rendell peels back the layers to show the less savory aspects of his character. Clearly his mother's running out on the family when he was 5 has warped him in a fundamental way. His love of the moors, which seems like an innocent and wholesome enough affection for the land on which he was raised, starts to seem obsessive, a way to escape rather than deal with problems. When Stephen finds a murdered woman while hiking on the moors, it changes everything.

I would actually give this book 2.5 stars, if possible. This psychological study just didn't hit any of the right notes for me. The 'mystery' was virtually non-existent, and I had figured it out well before the end. The characters, which should have been the driving force of this book, were flat and not very likable (with the exception of Lyn, whom I was rooting for throughout). And the psychology on display, including a nice Oedipus complex, was so text-book, Pysch 101 that watching it unfold wasn't very exciting. Perhaps when the book was first published this would have been more cutting edge?On the plus side, the rather large twist that occurs at about the three-quarter mark was excellent! I didn't see it coming, and thought Rendell did a great job with the build-up and revelation. Also, her descriptions of the moor conveyed the barren, harsh beauty nicely and really added to the overall atmosphere of the story.Overall, I wasn't super impressed, but will continue trying out Rendell, since I enjoy her works as Barbara Vine very much.

I had never read Ruth Rendel, but I was getting over either a bad cold or a mild flu, and I wanted some easy reading with lots of story. That is just what I got.Rendel plays with the conventions of the cozy, British village mystery by including truly grisly murders and characters that range from psychotic, to deeply disturbed, to clueless. The mystery is not too compelling, and some characters might as well be wearing t-shirts with "red herring" logos, but there are good twists and a couple of real surprises. At times I thought this was all Patricia Highsmith lite, but it is enjoyable on its own terms.
—Charles Dee Mitchell

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