THE MINOTAUR by Barbara Vine

Barbara Vine is a pseudonym for the author Ruth Rendell, and under this nom de plume she publishes novels of psychological suspense. This one was published in 2005, and has elements of modern Gothic horror.

The official plot description, for your edification and review:

As soon as Kerstin Kvist arrives at remote, ivy-covered Lydstep Old Hall in Essex, she feels like a character in a gothic novel. A young nurse fresh out of school, Kerstin has been hired for a position with the Cosway family, residents of the Hall for generations. She is soon introduced to her “charge” John Cosway, a thirty-nine-year-old man whose strange behavior is vaguely explained by his mother and sisters as part of the madness that runs in the family.

Weeks go by at Lydstep with little to mark the passage of time beyond John’s daily walks and the amusingly provincial happenings that engross the Cosway women, and Kerstin occupies her many free hours at the Hall reading or making entries into her diary. Meanwhile, bitter wrangling among Julia Cosway and her four grown daughters becomes increasingly evident. But this is just the most obvious of the tensions that charge the old remote estate, with its sealed rooms full of mystery. Soon Kerstin will find herself in possession of knowledge she will wish she’d never attained, secrets that will propel the occupants of Lydstep Old Hall headlong into sexual obsession, betrayal, and, finally, murder.

This was a terrific book, containing everything I like:  British understatement, that slightly off-center story, characters that are so strange you just have to love them, and mystery.

Kerstin is told by the friend of the Cosways, who recommended her for the job, that the house has a labyrinth, and Kerstin spends a lot of time roaming the grounds looking for it but is unsuccessful in finding it.  Finally, one of the daughters of the house explains to her that it is in the library, and when taken there, Kerstin discovers it is indeed a labyrinth, set up by one of the great grandfathers, a mazi of isles created by book.  There are thousands of books, in the dimly lit room, narrow aisles, teetering piles, dusty shelves.  The aisles eventually lead to a center cleared area where a statue of one of the atheistic philosophers stands with his hands positioned to hold a book, and in them is placed a bible.

The mentally challenged son she is supposed to be caring for turns out to be autistic, which was not widely known about in the setting of the story, the 70s.  He has been drugged by his mother who dislikes him, and her elderly boyfriend doctor, who could be censured for prescribing these inappropriate drugs.   He loves the library, and after the murder of one of his sisters, for which he is blamed, retreats to the library.  The law enforcement people have to find him in there and drag him out, hence the title of the book.

For me, it was a total page-turner, and was one of the books I was sad when it had to end.


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