Ruth Rendell, (aka Barbara Vine) the 82 year-old British novelist
Saint Zita, Ruth Rendell tells us, is the patron saint of servants. The Saint Zita Society is spearheaded by June, the 80 year-old companion to the Princess. June gets little or no respect and starts the society to improve working conditions on Hexam Place, an upscale London address. Attendance is never high, the chief draw being that meetings are held in the local pub, the Dugong. (You could look that word up in a myth dictionary.)
I would call it an ensemble novel because it has so many characters all more or less of equal importance. Only one of them, Rabia, the Muslim nursery maid to Thomas, a banker’s son, engages our sympathy. She has had a tragic history as mother and wife and she has attached herself to her charge with ferocity.
Two of the others fall into the doormat category: Thea, who rightly claims that she is not actually a servant, nonetheless, is admitted to the Society because she fulfills that role to her landlords, a gay couple planning a civil union ceremony and to the angry widow who lives in the first floor flat of the 3 flat house. She would qualify for sainthood herself if she wasn’t filled with furious resentment. The other pushover is Dr. Jefferson, Hexham’s resident paediatrician. The doctor does not, of course qualify as a member, nor do, the gay couple, the Princess or Lord and Lady Studley.
There are several drivers, Jimmy, Beacon and Henry, easily distinguishable by their differing morality and who they drive for – Dr. Jefferson, Mr Still and Lord Studly, respectively. They do not indulge in alcoholic beverages at the meetings, although some of them indulge in other vices on their own time.
Several people entertain the idea of marrying persons they do not love, but these plans don’t always pan out. In fact love gets a bad rap in this book, with the exception of Rabia’s love for baby Thomas.
There are those ready and willing to take advantage of the pliant nature of others, including the gay couple and the Still’s au pair, Montserrat, who lives in the Still’s house and collects a salary but apparently has no duties.
There are 2 nasty old girls, the afore-mentioned Mrs. Grieves and the Princess, although the Princess’s dog Gussie may have the inside edge on nastiness.
The novel is not a Whodunit nor even a Whydunit, nor even a Will-they catch-em. It’s inciting event is an accidental death, which gets mismanaged, so to say. There are, I hasten to add, additional, actual murders. A red-headed detective wanders ineffectually into the drawing rooms and bedsits of Hexham Place. Nevertheless things get wrapped up nicely, including the St. Zita Society. No one is left out of this denouement. And there is a measure of what my history prof called natural justice in the end.
I read this book on my Kindle.