Friday, October 22, 2010

Master of the Moor

My dear readers: Should you find yourself in want of a dark, brooding novel set among the dark, brooding moorlands of Yorkshire, look no further than Master of the Moor (1982), by Ruth Rendell.

Outwardly bluff and cheerful, the protagonist of this tale, Stephen Whalby, likes nothing better than roaming for hours among the hills, heather and tors of Vangmoor. But on one such solitary ramble, Stephen chances upon the body of a young woman, strangled, and with what must have been silken blonde hair cropped off roughly at her scalp.

The finding upsets Stephen, though it's difficult to detect that from the casual excitement with which he shares the finding with Lyn, his wife:
'You weren't long.'
  'I hadn't got far. Oh, Lord, darling, there's something pretty ghastly up there. A girl and she's dead. I found her lying among the Foinmen.'
  It occurred to Lyn -- fleetingly, to be gone in a moment -- that most men would have broken such a thing more gently to their wives. 
Even so, the event sets Stephen back on his heels, because the moor is more to him than just a place for respite and solitude. No one knows its paths, its stones, its forgotten mines and secret passages better than he does. He's come to feel a sense of ownership. He's even lately begun authoring a column in the local paper in which he styles himself as "The Voice of Vangmoor."

Soon, when another blonde woman goes missing and Stephen insinuates himself into the search, he begins to think of himself as 'Master of the Moor.' Stephen's desire to control all that occurs on the moor becomes a compulsion.

The effect of Stephen's obsession with the moor on the narrative complications is brilliant. Stephen's actions -- discovering the first body and then leading the search for the next -- place him in the unenviable position of prime suspect in the eyes of the local police.

Even Miss Lemon began to wonder about Stephen as his breezy outward behaviour soon shifted to reveal a darker interior. With all his 'Good Lords' and 'Good griefs,' one doesn't know whether his exasperation is simply good-humoured bemusement or something more sinister.

Of the final scene, Miss Lemon will say but this: it leaves one gasping for breath.

In all, Master of the Moor, with its moody setting and psychological suspense, is just the sort of novel to read as October drifts darkly into November. 


  1. Oh, I've got to read this one, simply to find out what that means.

    I read quite a bit of Ruth Rendell at one point in my reading life, and I think perhaps I've been too long away.

  2. Miss Lemon is very fond of Ruth Rendell, too. And if you like her, you're bound to like Margaret Yorke. Have you read any of her whydunits? They're quite addictive!

  3. I haven't gotten to her yet, but I have Mortal Remains right here on my shelf.

  4. I remember liking this one. Just finished reading her newest, Portobello. I liked it -- perhaps not as much as some others but nobody does quirk like the Baroness.

  5. You said it, Olive. With style, as usual : )

  6. The 1994 BBC television movie of Master of the Moor, with Colin Firth as Stephen, is pretty hair-raising and heart-wrenching.